Just after 6 a.m. Friday morning, Cherry Creek baseball coach Marc Johnson tweeted: “Positive thought for today: Our emphasis should be on execution not winning. Winning is a byproduct of great execution.”

It was seven hours before his team took on Grandview for a spot in the state championship game, but it makes sense for a coach in his 52nd and final season leading the Bruins to be more concerned with the journey than the destination.

Execution helped Cherry Creek during its small-ball-spurred rally that plated five runs in the fourth, and again when they drew several walks to score four runs on one hit in the fifth. Perhaps most importantly, execution remained the focus when the Wolves made an extremely valiant last gasp with six runs in the top of the seventh inning.

It all added up to an 11-9 win for the Bruins, plus a chance for Johnson to coach in his 15th title game and maybe win his ninth.

But that’s not the focus with Johnson.

“We don’t talk about state championships or anything like that,” he said. “We talk about living the process and going through all the things we have to do. If you look at my tweet from this morning, we did exactly what we had to do. We had to go through the process and not worry about winning. Executing—execute what you’ve got to do to get there. It took us 11 runs and that’s good because I knew before I got here that Grandview had gotten hot.”

The Wolves put a scare into the Bruins during the top of the seventh inning, starting with a two-run home run to left from Kyler Vaughn that hacked Cherry Creek’s lead down to 11-5. Grandview proceeded to load the bases and back-to-back walks cut the deficit to four. A two-run single from Collin May made it 11-9 and the Wolves pushed two runners into scoring position with two outs, but a mix-up on the basepaths led to a short rundown that ended the game.

The Bruins could sustain their lead because of a pair of mid-inning rallies involving only one extra-base hit—catcher Will Taylor’s double to lead off the fourth. He was replaced by courtesy runner Alex Maynard, who advanced to third on a wild pitch. Mason Scott was hit by a pitch before Sean Goldy laid down a bunt to bring in Taylor. Tyce Smith bunted for a single and, with the bases loaded, Eli Rose singled back up the middle to make it 3-1. Luke Rose kept the small ball going with another bunt single that plated a run, then Connor Larkin capped the five-run rally with a single through the right side of the infield.

“It’s broke the game up,” Johnson said. “We knew we would have to do some of those specialty things we work on every day that may make a difference in a game. It made a huge difference for us today.”

Cherry Creek added four more runs on one hit in the bottom of the fifth to go up 9-1 while Grandview worked through three pitching changes. The Wolves got two runs back in the top of the sixth on a fielder’s choice and one-run single, but the Bruins responded immediately in the bottom half by scoring on a wild pitch and adding another run with a sacrifice fly. That put them up 11-3 before Grandview’s late surge.

The Wolves earned their shot against Cherry Creek with a 6-1 win over Prairie View earlier in the day. Nick Martensen went the distance and struck out five batters with only one walk, while Jax Pfister was 2-for-4 with two doubles and two RBIs.

The Bruins, now, have checked off the first of three wins they’d need to secure a state championship. They’ll have to beat Regis Jesuit twice, with the first matchup scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow.

“We’ve worked really hard,” Johnson said. “I told them coming into the tournament that it’s going to be hard. It’s never easy.

“We’re excited to be where we’re at. We know our back is against the wall because we have to win three games and Regis only needs to win one. We’re going to be here and we’re going to give it the best we’ve got.”

The Raiders, meanwhile, have been off for the past week after dispatching Cherry Creek 3-0 on May 25. It was the second time the teams had met this season, with the Bruins taking the first 3-0. Regis Jesuit is searching for its first title since 2019 when they defeated Cherry Creek 8-3. The Raiders have won both times these teams have met in the title game, the other coming in 2011.