AURORA | When the suspense finally ended Sunday with the announcement of the Class 5A state softball tournament field, three city teams were grateful to be included, some more than others.
While Smoky Hill knew it had an automatic spot in the 16-team state tournament field because it won the Centennial League championship and Cherokee Trail felt its 14-2 record made it totally qualified for the postseason, Regis Jesuit faced plenty of uncertainty.
Coach Merideth Feik’s Raiders lost their last two games of the regular season — to state tournament-bound Legend and Grand Junction Central — and weren’t sure that their hot streak in the middle of the season (a stretch where they won seven of eight games) would get them in due to the Colorado High School Activities Association’s somewhat confusing qualifying formula that changed daily.
To Regis Jesuit’s delight, it was the No. 14 seed when the bracket came out Sunday.
“I knew it was going to come down to percentages from the math we were doing because of the way RPI and everything is calculated,” Feik told the Sentinel after the announcement. “The way they are doing it is so hard to really understand. I thought there was a very small hope, but with the math we were doing, we didn’t think we were going to make it. It was a hard couple of days and we would have been very heartbroken if we didn’t make it, but now we’re very excited.”
Regis Jesuit (10-6) drew a road matchup against No. 3 Chatfield (13-3) in a game scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Feik is a graduate of Chatfield and has a lot of respect for coach Jenn Lazzeri’s program, but she’s hoping her young team that takes its cues from several senior leaders can avenge a 10-1 loss to the Chargers Aug. 18 in the season-opener for both teams.
Smoky Hill (15-1) fell short of an undefeated regular season when it dropped Saturday’s Centennial League Challenge finale to rival Cherokee Trail, a defeat coach B.J. Kingsbaker feared could have significant ramifications to the Buffaloes’ position in the state bracket.
The strength of schedule rating on the MaxPreps website — which combined with RPI and a coaches poll to determine qualifiers — seemed to hurt both Smoky Hill and Cherokee Trail, which played only teams in its league during the regular season, but Kingsbaker was pleased to see his team ended up with the No. 5 seed.
Kingsbaker was also surprised to see coach Caley Mitchell’s Cherokee Trail team with the No. 10 seed, as he thought they should have been higher. The Buffaloes and Cougars were the only two Centennial League teams to qualify for the postseason.
“Me and Caley were on the phone all day trying to do the math and we were hoping that we wouldn’t end up playing other again,” Kingsbaker said. “I really don’t know how it happened, but it worked out. I don’t think there are five places between us and CT, but I would take either of our positions. We’re going to get to see how good our league is.”
CHSAA’s switch in state tournament format from one day at the Aurora Sports Park to multiple days with the first two rounds played at home sites helped Smoky Hill get a home state tournament game with its position in the top eight.
The Buffaloes will play host to 12th-seeded Rocky Mountain (11-5), who they had on their original schedule before the pandemic forced the season to be shortened and might have seen again at a tournament in Fort Collins, at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Cherokee Trail — which missed out on the state tournament last season after making it to the 5A state championship game in 2018 — had literally no idea where it might end in the state tournament field, though the final win against Smoky Hill no doubt helped.
“I can say that it’s been stressful and there have been a lot of things not working in our favor,” Mitchell said after the win over Smoky Hill. “This season, you are just leaving things up to these algorithms and it’s terrifying.”
As the No. 10 seed, the Cougars (14-2) face a road game at No. 7 Horizon (15-1) at 4 p.m. Tuesday. The Front Range League champion Hawks have a strong resume with wins over No. 2 Broomfield and No. 4 Fossil Ridge.
Winners of Tuesday’s opening round games move on to quarterfinals on Thursday, with the surviving teams set for semifinals and championship game at the Aurora Sports Park Saturday.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
2020 CLASS 5A STATE SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT
First round, Oct. 6
Game 1: No. 16 Legacy (9-7) at No. 1 Rock Canyon (15-1), 3:30 p.m.
Game 2: No. 9 Legend (12-4) at No. 8 Grand Junction Central (13-3), 4 p.m., Kronkrite Park
Game 3: No. 13 Ralston Valley (9-7) vs. No. 4 Fossil Ridge (13-3), 4 p.m.
Game 4: No. 12 Rocky Mountain (11-5) at NO. 5 SMOKY HILL (15-1), 4 p.m.
Game 5: No. 14 REGIS JESUIT (10-6) at No. 3 Chatfield (13-3), 4 p.m.
Game 6: No. 11 Douglas County (11-5) at No. 6 Lakewood (13-3), 3:45 p.m.
Game 7: NO. 10 CHEROKEE TRAIL (14-2) at No. 7 Horizon (15-1), 4 p.m.
Game 8: No. 15 Brighton (9-7) at No. 2 Broomfield (15-1), 4 p.m.