There’s one more thing left to make the dream 2016 season complete for the Cherokee Trail baseball team: championship rings.
Just over a month after they captured the Class 5A state championship, the Cougars were still waiting for the individual hardware to arrive.
A handful of players from the Cherokee Trail team that won the first state baseball title for an Aurora program since 2011 headline the 2016 Aurora Sentinel All-City Baseball Team, which is selected by the Sentinel in conjunction with balloting of Aurora coaches.
Pitchers Jerome Bohannon and Conner Nantkes, infielders Ryan Sullivan and Nick Perez and outfielder Eric Cox represent the Cougars, joining trios from Grandview (pitcher Cade Crader, catcher Tyson Hays and outfielder Zach Sundine) and Regis Jesuit (pitcher Bo Weiss, infielder Travis Marr and outfielder Quin Cotton), plus players from a handful of other programs (Rangeview’s Josh Schumacher, Gateway’s Dylan Paulsen and Smoky Hill’s Evan Richards).
Motivated by the burning disappointment of last season’s 1-0 district loss to Pine Creek, Cherokee Trail earned its chance at a state championship this season and made it count with a 5-1 run through the 5A Championship Series.
The Cougars had arguably the best 1-2 punch on the mound in Bohannon and Nantkes, both left-handers. Between them, the pair of All-Centennial League first teamers finished 14-2 (Bohannon 7-0, Nantkes 7-2) and both ended up with sub-2.00 ERAs and more than 50 strikeouts.
Bohannon (a Metro State recruit) tossed a complete game in the Cherokee Trail’s win over Rocky Mountain in the 5A state championship game, which wasn’t going well until Cox created a spark with a two-run home run that launched the offense on a nine-run explosion.
Nantkes recently gave his verbal commitment to Washington State and said he plays to return to Cherokee Trail for his senior season, though his parents have moved to Seattle.
“I walked too many people, but looking back I definitely saw improvement,” said Nantkes, who walked 32 batters against 51 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings.
“I definitely got better from the beginning of the year and I hope to carry that on into my senior year,” he added.
Cox, Perez and Sullivan — also All-Centennial League first teamers — keyed a potent Cougars offense and put up some gaudy statistics.
Sullivan (an Iowa Western Community College signee) led Cherokee Trail in batting average (.506), hits (44) and RBI (32) and tied for the top spot in home runs with four.
“Thinking back on it, I still get goosebumps,” Sullivan said of winning the state championship. “I’ve gone back and watched the video a lot, when Jerome threw that game-winning pitch and I ran up and gave him a hug. That’s a baseball moment I’ll always remember.”
Sullivan said he is looking forward to playing with 2015 Grandview grad Eric Mingus at Iowa Western and hopes to go as far as he can in the future with baseball.
Perez served as designated hitter last season and took pride in working on his defense enough to earn a regular spot at third base, where he received the team’s defensive MVP award. He didn’t forget how to hit with a .447 batting average, 22 RBI and a team-high 31 runs scored.
“I DHed last year because honestly my arm wasn’t strong enough to play third base,” Perez said. “I just kept working on it and I got team defensive player of the year. I made a couple of diving stops in our games at Metro that stood out.
“I just felt comfortable at the plate all season long. I don’t think I had one game that was the best, I was just consistent. It also helped being part of what was the best hitting lineup in the state in my opinion.”
Cox, meanwhile, hit .394 and pounded out 17 doubles (most in 5A) and also scored 28 times. Like Perez, Cox gave up football — a decision in part prompted by a torn labrum — and it paid off for him. His extra base hits definitely made for a memorable year.
“I found a lot of gaps and a lot of it was just coming around first hard and looking for hiccups in the defense,” Cox said. “I would say four or five of the doubles came running hard out of the box and knowing what kind of field we were playing on. Coach Dyer always says to be aggressive, but not stupid.”
Aurora’s other Championship Series qualifier, Grandview, had the ingredients for a title run of its own, but lost to fellow Centennial League foes Cherry Creek and Mullen to be eliminated on the opening weekend.
The trio of Crader, Hays and Sundine — joined on the All-Centennial League first team by shortstop Tyler Smith — were huge driving forces for coach Scott Henry in his first season at the helm at Grandview.
Crader keyed the Wolves’ outstanding pitching staff with a 6-1 record, including a pair of complete games. He struggled consistently in the opening inning of games, but settled in each quickly and finished with a team-best 2.35 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings.
“I thought I pitched pretty well and the only time I really struggled was in the first inning, having the jitters or whatever,” Crader said.
“The game is a lot different than when you are getting amped up in the bullpen. I think by the second inning, I was able to settle in.”
Crader will join Bohannon at Metro and is looking forward to being able to play first base and hit in addition to pitching.
Sundine and Hays posted Grandview’s best batting averages at .415 and .410, respectively, and sparked an offense with a penchant for big innings.
With the Wolves possessing an arsenal of pitching, the left-handed Sundine (a Central Arizona-bound pitcher) accepted his role as an outfielder and worked hard to become an accomplished hitter. He led the team in hits (34) and tied for first in runs scored with 17.
“I’ve pitched so much and haven’t hit in the past few years, so I just tried to see as many fastballs as I could,” Sundine said. “I wasn’t the best curveball hitter, at all. I just tried to put pressure on the defense.”
Sundine is eager to become a pitcher only at Central Arizona and believes that his change up (which he has been working on extensively during the summer season with the Lightning program) will help him at the next level.
Hays matched Sundine’s total of 13 RBI and finished second on the team with 25 hits, with 10 of them going for extra bases. Hays homered twice and both were memorable, as the first came over the left field fence at Coors Field and second helped the Wolves win their first game in the 5A Championship Series. Behind the plate, he made just one error.
Regis Jesuit won the Continental League championship, though its season came to a disappointing end with a loss to Cherry Creek in the district playoffs.
The Raiders were fueled by the veteran trio of Weiss (the league pitcher of the year) plus infielder/pitcher Marr and outfielder Cotton, who shared league player of the year honors.
Weiss — son of Colorado Rockies manager Walt Weiss — signed with the University of North Carolina, then went on to post a 7-1 record with a 1.96 ERA in nine appearances. Eleven of the 18 earned runs he surrendered all season in 43 1/3 innings came in one game against Fairview and he struck out 61 hitters in all.
“I think the biggest thing for me this season was just slowing the game down, even in pressure situations,” Weiss said. “In the past, I tended to speed up a lot and was throwing a pitch every two seconds. This year, I kept my cool a lot better and it really made a big difference.”
Though drafted by the New York Yankees in the 29th round, Weiss intends to pitch for the Tar Heels.
Cotton finished second among hitters from Aurora schools with a .514 batting average, while he racked up 15 extra base hits among his team-leading total of 36 and paced the team in RBI (28) and runs scored (24).
His efforts not only netted him recognition as an ABCA/Rawlings Third Team All-American, but also prompted the Colorado Rockies to use their 38th-round pick in the MLB Draft on him. Cotton, however, intends to play at Grand Canyon University.
“I put in a lot of hard work in the offseason, but the batting average was definitely pretty impressive,” Cotton said while spending the summer playing for the Oneonta (New York) Outlaws. “I wish we could have gone farther, but there were some really great moments with the team.”
Marr signed with Clemson and had a strong season both as a pitcher (5-2, 3.68 ERA) but also as an infielder. Offensively, he finished only behind Cotton in batting average (.431), hits (22) & RBI (23), while leading the team with four home runs.
Aurora’s fourth qualifier for the 5A district playoffs was Rangeview, which was led by senior Josh Schumacher. The veteran shortstop earned EMAC Player of the Year honors after a season in which he led Aurora players in batting average at .524 and RBI with 34, while he launched three home runs as well and tossed a few innings down the stretch for the Raiders.
Schumacher is headed for Kansas City Community College.
Though he led Centennial League hitters with a .508 batting average, Richards was selected to the all-league second team for Smoky Hill. The center fielder registered at least one hit in all 19 of the Buffs’ games and had 30 on the season to go with 21 RBI in his first full season after transferring from Valor Christian in 2015.
“I felt good and I put in a lot of work in the offseason,” Richards said. “Getting more at-bats was big since I transferred in last year and sat half of the year….I think I played pretty well in center field, but it’s hard to screw up too bad out there.”
Richards — who also played basketball, football and golf in high school — is headed to play at West Hills J.C., where he hopes to catch the eye of a Division I program in California.
Paulsen had the most eye-popping stat in Aurora baseball this season as he racked up 33 stolen bases to match the state record recognized by the Colorado High School Activities Association, which has a recordbook that dates back to only 2008.
Coach Brian Dossey trusted Paulsen enough to give him a green light every time he reached base, which was often given his .408 batting average. With an improved ability to steal third base, Paulsen was successful on 33 of his 35 attempts and said one of the times he was thrown out was on a play designed to get him to draw a throw on the back end of a double steal so a runner could score from third.
“I was with Coach Dossey for four years, so he definitely trusted me and whatever decision I would make; he gave me the green light last year, too,” Paulsen said. “Stealing bases is all about timing. It’s different every game depending on the pitcher. It’s especially hard to time it perfectly when you are going from second to third, but I did a pretty good job of it this year.”
Paulsen — who finished with 40 steals in three prep seasons — has signed to play football (as a wide receiver or safety) at Presentation College in Aberdeen, South Dakota. He approached the Presentation staff about playing baseball as well, but they wouldn’t allow it.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
2016 AURORA SENTINEL ALL-CITY BASEBALL TEAM
FIRST TEAM — Pitcher: Jerome Bohannon, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Cade Crader, Grandview, sr.; Conner Nantkes, Cherokee Trail, jr.; Bo Weiss, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Catcher: Tyson Hays, Grandview, jr.; Infield: Travis Marr, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Nick Perez, Cherokee Trail, jr.; Josh Schumacher, Rangeview, sr.; Ryan Sullivan, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Outfield: Quin Cotton, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Eric Cox, Cherokee Trail, jr.; Zach Sundine, Grandview, sr.; Utility: Dylan Paulsen, Gateway, sr.; Designated hitter: Evan Richards, Smoky Hill, sr.
SECOND TEAM — Pitcher: Spencer Hammond, Eaglecrest, sr.; Keven MacKintosh, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Grant Schroeder, Grandview, sr.; Caleb Sloan, Regis Jesuit, jr.; Paddy Walsh, Smoky Hill, jr. (pitcher); Catcher: Travis Lynch, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Infield: Edgar Castaneda, Rangeview, sr.; Matt McDermott, Smoky Hill, sr.; Michael Morris, Cherokee Trail, jr.; John-Michael Osley, Cherokee Trail, sr. (infield); Tyler Smith, Grandview, sr.; Outfield: Matt Meraz, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Travis Parker, Grandview, sr.; Thomas Rutherford, Rangeview, sr. Utility: Andrew Coverly, Grandview, sr.; Designated hitter: Parker Friedentag, Smoky Hill, sr.
HONORABLE MENTION — Preston Askew, Overland, jr. (outfield); Aron Castrejon, Hinkley, jr. (catcher); Anthony Chavez, Hinkley, jr. (infield/pitcher); Austin Chouinard, Regis Jesuit, jr. (infield); Casey Embury, Vista PEAK, jr. (utility); AJ Fell, Regis Jesuit, sr. (pitcher); Jimmy Holinger, Regis Jesuit (infield), jr.; Gonzalo Luevano, Rangeview, jr. (DH); Jesus Martinez, Hinkley, fr. (utility); Danny McDermott, Smoky Hill, soph. (utility); Nick Morris, Grandview, sr. (pitcher); CJ Peacock, Rangeview, soph. (outfield); Austin Prince, Gateway, sr. (DH); Garrett Tisdall, Eaglecrest, jr. (utility); Alberto Vasquez, Vista PEAK, soph. (pitcher); Agustin Vasquez, Aurora Central, sr. (pitcher)