AURORA — With temperatures hovering around 80 degrees at first pitch, Cherokee Trail was ready to give its sweat.
In the first inning, the Cougars gave their blood.
And after Chloe Knapp’s home run in the top of the eighth to score the first and only run of the game, they were happy to give their tears.
For the first time in school history, Cherokee Trail is a softball champion. Knapp’s home run and the final inning of an outstanding pitching performance from Emily Bell gave them a 1-0 win over Broomfield.
It also put championship gold in their hands.
“It feels really good,” an emotional Knapp said. “I can’t believe we did this. I can’t believe we just won the championship!”
And she wasn’t the only one who was disbelieving. After the Class 5A state championship trophy was presented, several players could be heard asking each other as if they still needed convincing.
“Can you believe we did this?”
But it’s real. As real as the space now needed in the Cougars’ trophy case.
And it was a nail-biter to the very end.
The top of the first inning offered the best scoring chance for either team. A play at the plate went the way of Broomfield as catcher Megan Medhus bolted for home on a passed ball. But she was thrown out and somehow got hit in the face, resulting in a bloody nose.
For the next six innings, nothing. But with Bell matching Broomfield’s Taylor Gilmore’s effort on the mound, Cherokee Trail just started gaining more and more confidence.
“It was terrible,” Cougars coach Casey Mitchell said. “I was hoping we could stay with it. Both teams are great hitting teams and I just knew that if we didn’t start moving runners across the board to get runs, they would.”
Both teams got their chances to do that. For Cherokee Trail, they came early. For the Eagles, their best chance came in the bottom of the seventh inning. Gilmore started the inning off with a double, but Bell struck out Matti Morales, walked Megan Bisterfeld and then forced two consecutive groundouts to end the inning.
“My whole thing this game was to focus on every inning,” Bell said. “Not to look at the game as a whole, but just look at every batter every inning and I think that’s what got me through. Keeping positive and going after every batter.”
And apparently just wait for a lead to come her way. And that happened on a 1-0 count to Knapp that she knocked over the fence in centerfield, mimicking her walk-off grand slam over Rock Canyon on Friday that helped the Cougars advance to Saturday’s semifinals.
“When I woke up this morning, I had a really good feeling about today,” Knapp said. “The entire day, I thought we would make it here and I thought we would win.”
But in order to do that, they were going to have to shut down an offense that was averaging more than 11 runs per game in the state tournament.
But Bell was more than up to the task. And once Knapp’s home run sailed over the fence, she was more than happy to take the ball to the mound for one last inning.
“I was thinking that the game was in my hands,” Bell said. “But I knew if I kept my approach that I had the innings before, that I could do it.”
And she did. And the Cougars are champions for the first time as result. All it took was giving their blood, sweat and tears.