Off-the-field drama has followed Dylan Cozens throughout his tenure at Chaparral, but his prowess in the batter’s box has never been questioned.
And now it will be the lasting image of the 2012 baseball season.
The Firebirds’ star right fielder blasted a first-pitch fastball over the left-center field fence for a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning as Chaparral defeated Brophy 5-3 in the Division I state championship game on Tuesday at Glendale Camelback Ranch.
Cozens was kicked off Desert Mountain’s team last year and ruled ineligible to play for 365 days following a quick transfer to Chaparral. He played with the Firebirds from the start of this season – before the calendar year of ineligibility had elapsed - which brought along a new batch of questions.
Chaparral and the Arizona Interscholastic Association agreed that Cozens was eligible, and with that behind him, the left-handed slugger didn’t stop hitting all season. He had 19 home runs on the year, six more than anyone else in the state. This last one was a moonshot, clearing the wall as Broncos center fielder Chris Beall hopelessly looked up.
“Crazy,” Cozens said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
It ended a well-played championship game with a variety of stars.
Chaparral scored two runs in the first inning on a pair of bases-loaded walks, but Nick Jewett and Ryan Castellani blasted solo home runs to tie the game through two and a half innings. The Firebirds went ahead in the bottom of the third when Jeremy Wolf scored on a passed ball, but again the Broncos responded when Castellani tripled and David Graybill knocked him in with a single in the fifth.
From there, a pair of relievers took over.
Brophy’s Jake Steffens set down six straight batters to give the Broncos a chance to take the lead, but Chaparral left-hander Dillon Bigcrane was just as good. He didn’t allow a hit in 2 2/3 innings, striking out seven batters with a heavy dose of off-speed pitches.
“If it’s going to come down to anybody, I’m glad it was me,” Bigcrane said.
Bigcrane hit a ball to right field in the semifinals against Brophy in the bottom of the eighth inning which he thought was a walk-off homer. Instead it fell short and he was held to a single. When Cozens hit his blast, Bigcrane knew it was in the right direction.
“I remember my ball got caught in the wind,” Bigcrane said. “I knew if his ball could go with the wind, it would carry to that left-center gap... Wooo. What a great way to end the season.”
Steffens struck out Austin Singer for the first out of the seventh inning, but couldn’t put away Nick Diamond, who lined a 2-2 fastball into right field for a single. With one out and one on, Steffens couldn’t afford to pitch around Cozens, who wasted no time in depositing the first pitch he saw into the grass berms in left field.
“Jake Steffens was remarkable,” Brophy coach Tom Succow said. “Dylan Cozens is a heck of a hitter. He won it with one swing of the bat.”
Cozens finished 2-for-4 with the homer and two RBIs. Jeremy Wolf went 2-for-3 with a pair of runs scored.
Castellani was 2-for-3 with the home run, triple and two runs scored for Brophy.
Chaparral finished the postseason undefeated while every other team lost two games. It was the first season in the highest classification for the Firebirds, a team that has been a dominant program at the lower levels for decades.
“We take a lot of pride in Chaparral baseball,” coach Sam Messina said. “To be able to do it at this level, it’s a little extra special.”