DENVER | Many in the stands at All-City Field on Sunday remembered Cherokee Trail’s first run to a state baseball championship, which came back in 2007 when the fledgling Cougars climbed to the top of Class 4A.
Coach Allan Dyer guided that close group of Cherokee Trail players to that first title and plenty of similarities emerged nine years later in the team that won the 5A state championship, a tight-knit squad that thrived on camaraderie, outstanding pitching and timely hitting.
The Cougars needed two chances to win the 5A Championship Series after Rocky Mountain dealt them a 2-0 defeat in the opener, but junior Eric Cox’s two-run home run in the third inning of the rematch sparked Cherokee Trail’s offense and senior pitcher Jerome Bohannon settled in and shut down the Lobos over the last five innings of a 9-4 victory.
Senior John-Michael Osley hit a g0-ahead two-run double with two outs and two strikes in the fourth inning and had another run-scoring double in the sixth as the Cougars’ potent offense finally came alive after Rocky Mountain pitchers held it scoreless for nine straight innings.
Bohannon allowed just a single run over the last five innings and sealed Cherokee Trail’s victory in style with a called third strike to end the Lobos’ final threat in the seventh inning.
The Centennial League champion Cougars finished 5-1 in their first appearance in the 5A Championship Series since 2011 and ended the season 22-5.
Cherokee Trail won its first four games of the double-elimination series and thanks to Keven MacKintosh’s complete game victory over Mullen on Saturday had both Bohannon and junior Conner Nantkes rested and ready for the final day.
Dyer went with Nantkes, who shut out Rocky Mountain 7-0 on May 20 in the Cougars’ second game of the Championship Series. The left-hander pitched another gem against the Lobos with the championship on the line as he allowed just two hits and two runs in six innings.
Both of Rocky Mountain’s hits came in the fourth inning and produced the only runs of the game.
Rocky Mountain’s Jadon Uhrich flared a single to short left field to open the inning and Austin Alarid drew a walk, with both Uhrich and pinch runner Brady Morris coming in to score on Kadin Breeze’s double to the gap in right center field.
Though they outhit the Lobos 7-2 in the game, the Cougars couldn’t find a way to score against right-hander John Sorensen.
Cherokee Trail’s best two chances to score came in the second and third innings. Michael Morris doubled in the second and moved to third on Matt Meraz’s fly ball to deep left field. Travis Lynch failed to get down a suicide squeeze bunt on a difficult pitch away and Morris was called out as he scrambled back to third, though it appeared he got in before the tag was applied.
Nick Perez came up with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the third inning, but his groundball turned into a 5-2-3 double play that ended the threat.
The Cougars launched a last-gasp effort in the seventh when Osley walked and Bohannon singled, but Cox’s drive to deep center field landed in the glove of Breeze as Rocky Mountain held on to force the rematch.
The Lobos built a quick 3-0 lead in the second game against Bohannon, which included Easton Dolan’s first home run of the season with two strikes.
Cox followed up Bohannon’s two-out single with an absolute shot over the fence in center field for his second homer of the season to pull Cherokee Trail within 3-2 and Perez scored the tying run when Rocky Mountain third baseman Alex Gonzales couldn’t handle a pick off throw.
Following back-to-back hits from Perez and Ryan Sullivan, Osley found the gap in right center field to chase home pinch runners Logan Mayrose and Jake Barber and put the Cougars ahead for good at 5-3.
Dyer’s team tacked on three more runs in the sixth, which included the run-scoring double Osley dropped down the right field line and Cherokee Trail scored again in the seventh when pinch hitter Lincoln Choate was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
The Cougars finished with 10 hits and forced Rocky Mountain to use five pitchers in the game.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
Class 5A Championship Series
State Championship Game No. 2: CHEROKEE TRAIL 9, Rocky Mountain 4
Score by innings (r-h-e):
Cher. Trail 002 303 1 — 9 10 1
Rocky Mtn. 210 000 1 — 4 7 1
WP — Cherokee Trail: Jerome Bohannon (7 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 6 K). Cherokee Trail hitting: John-Michael Osley 2-3, 2 2B, 3 RBI, run; Jerome Bohannon 2-3, 2 RBI, run; Eric Cox 2-4, HR, 2 RBI, run; Ryan Sullivan 2-4, run; Nick Perez 1-3, run; Conner Nantkes 1-4, run; Lincoln Choate 0-0, RBI; Matt Meraz 0-2, run; Travis Lynch 0-2; Michael Morris 0-4; Logan Mayrose run; Jake Barber run
State Championship Game No. 1: Rocky Mountain 2, CHEROKEE TRAIL 0
Score by innings:
Cher. Trail 000 000 0 — 0 7
Rocky Mtn. 000 200 x — 2 2
LP — Cherokee Trail: Conner Nantkes (6 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 2 K). Cherokee Trail hitting: Michael Morris 2-3, 2B; Jerome Bohannon 2-3; John-Michael Osley 1-2; Conner Nantkes 1-2; Eric Cox 1-4; Nick Perez 0-3; Ryan Sullivan 0-3; Matt Meraz 0-3; Travis Lynch 0-3