LAKEWOOD — In CHSAA’s preseason Class 5A baseball poll, Chaparral went unranked and received just one vote.
Was that lone show of confidence from Wolverines coach Alan DiGiosio?
“Probably,” he said.
What is for sure is that on Friday at All-Star Park, the Wolverines underscored just how underrated they were. Chaparral defeated Vista Ridge and Cherokee Trail on the first day of the state tournament, putting the Wolverines in prime position heading into Saturday.
“We’re not a bunch of guys who are on a lot of people’s radar as far as being considered elite (or top prospects) in the state. But we’ve turned some heads this year,” DiGiosio said. “We started the season without being on anybody’s top team list, and here we are, 2-0 going into Saturday on the first weekend of the state tournament.”
Chaparral overcame six errors in the tournament opener and used junior Dillon Volz’s pinch-hit grand slam to win 11-6 against Vista Ridge. Then the Wolverines got a gem of an outing from senior southpaw James Harbison to defeat Cherokee Trail, 5-3, in the afternoon, a game where Harbison threw six innings of one-run ball and hit a home run.
Volz’s performance on Friday was especially notable. His grand slam in the sixth inning against Vista Ridge broke open what was a nail-biter, then his third-inning double evened the game 1-1 with Cherokee Trail. The Wolverines went on to score two more runs that inning, and didn’t relinquish the lead from there.
“(Volz) found himself out of the lineup the past couple weeks, but he stayed invested as we continued to roll,” DiGiosio said. “I’m proud of him for stepping up in that situation with a clutch hit… This team has that same mindset, and this team plays for each other — it doesn’t matter who’s up or what’s happened previously, we turn the page and keep going.”
Harbison said Chaparral’s ability to pull out two wins after being tied in the sixth in one game, and down in the third inning in another, is a credit to the belief the Wolverines (22-5, Continental League champions) have in each other.
“We’re trusting each other, trusting the pitchers we got, and we let our offense speak for itself,” said Harbison, a Northeastern Junior College commit. “In the first game today, we struggled a little bit on defense, but we were able to win with offense. Then in the second game it was less scoring, but the defense was there. We trust what we have, even if it’s not working perfectly at that moment.”
Harbison, senior right-hander Nate Pitts (9-1 this season, league pitcher of the year) and senior right-hander Andrew Isdale (Northern Colorado commit) are the Wolverines’ three primary arms as they aim for the first state title in program history.
Isdale will be on the mound on Saturday at 2 p.m. at All-City Stadium against Broomfield, which beat Valor Christian and Douglas County to advance in the winner’s bracket. The winner of the Wolverines-Eagles matchup then becomes the favorite heading into the second weekend of the state tournament, as that team will have to be beaten twice.
Entering the tournament, Chaparral’s lone in-state losses came to Brighton (4-0 on April 1) and Douglas County (15-7 on April 29).
“We believe we have the right team to (win the title),” Harbison said. “We’ve beat some of the top teams like wins against Legend, Regis Jesuit, Mountain Vista. We just have to keep it up and good things will happen.”
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