There’s no anxiety, no nervousness when Dylan Cozens waits in the on-deck circle.
With the Division I state baseball playoffs here and the margin for error gone, Chaparral’s senior right fielder wants to be the one in the batter’s box with the game in the balance.
After last season, he knows what it’s like watching helplessly from outside the lines.
Cozens is the most notorious player on the prep baseball scene. He was kicked off Desert Mountain last season and made an immediate transfer to Chaparral.
He tried to play for the Firebirds, but was deemed ineligible for the season by the Arizona Interscholastic Association. Chaparral won the state championship last year without Cozens, but he’s been a huge part this season as the team prepares for Tuesday’s Division I state championship game.
Cozens unofficially leads the state in home runs with 18 and broke Paul Konerko’s single-season school record for round-trippers. Cozens also hit a pair of towering homers at major league Spring Training stadiums during the playoffs, and went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs on Thursday in a 6-5 win over Brophy in the winner’s bracket semifinals.
“It’s what I’ve been waiting for,” he said. “This is finally my time, and I want to make the most of it.”
Chaparral has been a premier baseball program for years, but it often did damage at the Class 4A level, and, for the past few years, in 5A Division II.
With the type of players that have starred for the team — including current major leaguers Konerko (Chicago White Sox) and Ike Davis (New York Mets) — there was little question that the Firebirds would equip themselves well in this year’s move up to Division I, but Eric Brossart still heard the questions.
“Playing in 4A (the past few) years, people said we weren’t as good, that we weren’t playing the big guys,” the Chaparral catcher said. “Now we’re playing against the big guys and showing who Chaparral is. We’ve played them before and we’ve played with all these kids our whole life. We just go out there and try to have good at-bats, play good defense and hope it goes our way.”
So far it has, and the Firebirds have had a flair for the dramatic in the postseason.
They trailed rival-Desert Mountain by a run heading into the sixth inning in their third-round state tournament game, but scored two in the bottom of the inning to pull out a 4-3 win.
On Thursday, Brophy jumped out to a 5-0 lead, but Chaparral chipped away and picked up the win on Brossart’s game-winning hit in the bottom of the eighth inning.
These players are certainly not timid with the game on the line.
“We’ve come back before and I had no doubt in my mind we would do it (again),” Brossart said.
Cozens led off the bottom of the seventh inning in a tie contest on Thursday. The at-bat eventually ended up in a loud out when he smoked a ball right at the left fielder, but it was clear Cozens relished the opportunity.
“I feel like there’s no way I’m going to get out in those situations,” he said. “It’s just the confidence I have.”
That bravado will extend to Tuesday. Chaparral will be rested and ready to compete for another championship as the only team that hasn’t lost in the double-elimination tournament.
The pitching staff will have everyone available, and the potent lineup is ready to pick up where it left off at the end of the game on Thursday.
There are a lot of solid baseball programs in the state of Arizona, but Chaparral has a great argument as the best, and a Division I title would add to that thinking.
Right-hander Mike Diamond was the star of the semifinal victory, going 4-for-4 with a double, triple and two RBIs at the plate. He also set down the final 12 Brophy batters on the mound.
He doesn’t think there’s much suspense left with one game to go.
“We’re going to win, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “We’re going to win it.”