The 2017 season was very odd in general for Aurora prep baseball in a lot of ways.
After a recent stretch of occasional state championships, only three teams (Eaglecrest, Regis Jesuit and Grandview) made the 32-team Class 5A regional playoff field and none made it through to the eight-team 5A Championship Series. A city team had no impact on deciding the state champion for the first time since 2008.
Aurora certainly wasn’t bereft of talent, however. The 2017 Aurora Sentinel All-Aurora Baseball Team — selected by the Sentinel in conjunction with balloting of Aurora coaches — includes many of the 36 players to earn all-conference selections across the Centennial, Continental and EMAC.
The story of the season was the rise of Eaglecrest, which put together the program’s most outstanding season. Coach Tory Humphrey’s Raptors had the talent and chemistry to win an astonishing 11 more games than the previous season. Hinkley was next-best among Aurora teams with a six-game improvement from 2016.
The improvement of senior Garrett Tisdall, as a pitcher, hitter and leader, was at the center of Eaglecrest’s rise. He earned All-Centennial League first team selection as a utility player because he did everything for the Raptors and will also be a two-way player in college at Colorado Mesa University.
Crediting improved strength, Tisdall racked up the most wins for an Aurora pitcher on the mound (eight), plus a 2.62 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings, while he also slugged an Aurora-best eight home runs and knocked in 26 runs.
Junior Andrew Danko was another versatile Eaglecrest player who excelled in the field and on the mound. The all-league first team infielder led Raptors’ regulars in batting average (.423) and base hits (30), while he scored a team-high 27 runs and knocked in 16. As a closer, Danko registered a 3-0 record and two saves with a 3.27 ERA and averaged a strikeout per inning over 15 frames.
Regis Jesuit fell short of the Championship Series in a surprising way after winning its regional opener to put ace pitcher Caleb Sloan on the mound with a trip to the final eight on the line.
Sloan, a Texas Christian-bound right-hander, hadn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any of his previous eight outings, yet was tagged for nine runs in less than an inning of work by Broomfield as the Raiders’ season came to an end. Sloan finished 6-2 record with a 3.71 ERA and an Aurora-best 57 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings pitched, credentials that landed him on the All-Continental League first team.
Senior Michael Baer came off of an outstanding season with Regis Jesuit’s ice hockey team to help the baseball team in a big way. The left-handed hitting first baseman — who also pitched effectively for the Raiders — played in a starting role on the varsity for the first time and posted a team-best .439 batting average and finished just two hits off the pace of teammate Geno Macias for the team high. Baer led his squad with 17 runs scored and finished one off the lead in RBI with 16.
Cherokee Trail’s hopes of a repeat as 5A state champions came to a disappointing conclusion due to a number of close losses in an 8-11 season. In what turned out to be original coach Allan Dyer’s last season, the Cougars couldn’t quite find the formula they had the previous season, though some returning pieces did their best.
Senior Eric Cox played a key role as both a center fielder and pitcher in 2017. The Metro State signee and All-Centennial League first teamer was a driving force of the offense with a sparkling .388 batting average and a total of 25 RBI that led the team by nearly double figures. More impressively, 16 of Cox’s 26 hits (nine doubles, seven home runs) went for extra bases.
Senior Nick Perez finished with a batting average over .400 (.410) for the third time in as many varsity seasons. With a solid power stroke, the left-handed swinging Perez hit a career-high four home runs, had 14 extra base hits in total (among 25 hits) and knocked in 16 runs. The all-league first team pick is headed to Colby Community College in Kansas.
Cherokee Trail’s pitching staff experienced a lot of change from the previous season — especially with senior Conner Nantkes logging just 11 1/3 innings after battling back from injury — but junior Isaac Hayen stepped up. On a team that finished with eight wins, Hayen recorded four of them and led the team with 39 2/3 innings pitched, a huge jump after he logged just six varsity innings last season.
Hayen was voted onto the All-Centennial League second team for his performance, which included a 2.65 ERA that ranked lowest among Aurora starters.
Junior Jake Barber saw very little time for Cherokee Trail last season, but the speedy outfielder blossomed in his first chance as a regular. His .426 batting average led a talented Cougars’ hitting lineup, he reached base in nearly 50 percent of his trips to the plate and he led the team with a handful of stolen bases, all while making just a single error in the outfield.
With a huge amount of turnover from the previous season — especially on the pitching staff — Grandview (9-11) still managed to have the right RPI numbers to get into the regional field, even as it finished below .500 for the first time in at least a decade.
Coach Scott Henry’s team had some peaks and valleys throughout the season, but the presence of senior Tyson Hays was definitely a constant. The power-hitting catcher counted a grand slam among his three home runs and had 10 extra base hits among his 24 total hits on his way to a team-best .471 batting average.
A rarity for a catcher, Hays also led his team in runs scored with 21, while he even stole four bases. Defensively, the Illinois State signee was charged with just one error while helping an almost completely new pitching staff adjust to the varsity level.
One of a few Aurora teams that improved significantly from the previous season recordwise was Overland, which more than doubled its win total from the previous season to seven. Sophomore Jose Citron provided a significant spark with an All-Centennial League first team performance.
Citron recorded at least one base hit in 16 of the 17 games he played in for coach Eric Askew’s Trailblazers and he was credited with 31 total hits, the most among Aurora players. His .574 batting average led the Centennial League and Aurora, while he also paced city players with 29 runs scored and led his league with 13 stolen bases.
Rangeview, a district qualifier last season, managed to win 10 games despite significant turnover and the graduation of 2016 EMAC Player of the Year Josh Schumacher.
Junior outfielder CJ Peacock helped new Raiders coach Rick Spriggs in a lot of way with his hard-nosed play, which yielded an All-EMAC first team selection.
Hitting leadoff, Peacock got on base plenty with a .545 on base percentage — helped by a .412 batting average — which helped him score a team-high 20 runs and steal eight bases. He also homered from the leadoff spot and drove in 15 runs, while he showed tremendous range in center field and wasn’t charged with an error.
Vista PEAK joined the EMAC for the first time and finished in the middle of the pack with seven wins, which could have been double digits if not for three one-run losses. Senior Arturo Valenzuela couldn’t have done much more to help the Bison, as the All-EMAC first teamer contributed all over the field. His .571 batting average ranked second behind Cintron’s pace in the city, while he swiped an Aurora-high 17 bases and drove in 25 runs to boot.
Junior Danny McDermott played at an All-Centennial League first team level on the infield for coach Bob Kennedy’s Smoky Hill squad, which dipped a bit in the win column with a lot of graduation. Nearly half of McDermott’s 20 base hits went for extra bases and he hit .435 for the year, while he supplemented his shortstop duties with 16 1/3 innings on the mound for the Buffaloes.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
2017 AURORA SENTINEL ALL-AURORA BASEBALL TEAM
FIRST TEAM: Pitcher — Isaac Hayen, Cherokee Trail, jr.; Caleb Sloan, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Garrett Tisdall, Eaglecrest; Catcher — Tyson Hays, Grandview, sr.; Infield — Michael Baer, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Danny McDermott, Smoky Hill, jr.; Nick Perez, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Arturo Valenzuela, Vista PEAK, sr.; Outfield — Jake Barber, Cherokee Trail, jr.; Eric Cox, Cherokee Trail, sr.; CJ Peacock, Rangeview, jr.; Utility — Andrew Danko, Eaglecrest, jr.; Designated hitter — Jose Cintron, Overland, soph.
SECOND TEAM: Pitcher — Gunner Foegen, Grandview, jr.; Luke LaFlam, Grandview, jr.; Paddy Walsh, Smoky Hill, sr.; Catcher — Zach Sulyma, Eaglecrest, jr.; Infield — Stilian Balasopoulov, Eaglecrest, jr.; Daylon Jones, Overland, sr. (INF); Tyler Mills, Eaglecrest, sr.; Jackson VanZee, Grandview, soph.; Outfield — Preston Askew, Overland, sr. (OF); Garrett Gipson, Grandview, sr.; Geno Macias, Regis Jesuit, soph.; Utility — Aron Castrejon, Hinkley, sr.; Designated hitter — Conner Nantkes, Cherokee Trail, sr.
Carlos Benavides, Rangeview, fr. (INF); Nathan Blanco, Overland, fr. (OF); Matthew Boyd, Regis Jesuit, jr. (P); Isaiah Carillo, Rangeview, sr. (P); Jonathan Colon, Gateway, sr. (INF); Ian Conlin, Overland, sr. (INF); Andrew Cooper, Rangeview, jr. (C); Gabe Cortez, Vista PEAK, sr. (DH); Colby Craft, Aurora Central, sr. (OF); Cesar Dominguez, Hinkley, sr. (OF); Vincent Donovan, Eaglecrest, sr. (OF); Casey Embury, Vista PEAK, sr. (INF); Jimmy Holinger, Regis Jesuit, sr. (INF); Ethan Leisge, Cherokee Trail, jr. (INF); Nick Lovett, Eaglecrest, sr. (OF); Gonzalo Luevano, Rangeview, sr. (INF); Brodie Marino, Regis Jesuit, jr. (C); Jesus Martinez, Hinkley, soph. (INF); Michael McPeek, Regis Jesuit, sr. (P); Michael Morris, Cherokee Trail, sr. (INF); Hunter Parker, Eaglecrest, sr. (P); Jayden Smith, Eaglecrest, sr. (P); Isaac Sprinkle, Smoky Hill, jr. (C); Kevin Zapanta, Overland, jr. (INF/P)