For the final major decision of his 52-year tenure as Cherry Creek’s head coach, Marc Johnson gambled.

For the final major decision of his 52-year tenure as Cherry Creek’s head coach, Marc Johnson gambled.

The Bruins were in the consolation bracket of the Class 5A state tournament entering the final weekend of play and needed to beat Grandview to advance to the title game to have a chance at Regis Jesuit, which was in the driver’s seat.

Cherry Creek had the option of throwing one of its aces at Grandview, but instead Johnson elected to go with No. 3 starter Tyler Weston. When Weston delivered six-plus innings to beat the Wolves, it saved Division I-bound junior right-handers Wyatt Rudden and Ryan Falke for the final day.

Both aces threw complete games to top Regis Jesuit twice, leading to the Bruins’ ninth state title and earning Johnson The Denver Post’s All-Colorado Coach of the Year.

“In the state tournament, many coaches making that mistake of not throwing their best guy because they’re looking ahead in the bracket, and they end up getting beat,” Johnson said. “It’s something I would rarely do, to be honest. But the conversation (among our staff) was basically this: Nobody really cares if you’re second or third. We were trying to win it.

“Weston pitched very well and got us to where we needed to be. It was a calculated risk, but we want to go for a championship instead of just trying to get into the next game.”

Marc Johnson, retiring Cherry Creek baseball team head coach, holds the memorial baseball bat at his home in Centennial on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

The combination of clutch pitching, a deep and potent lineup, and excellent defense sent Johnson out on a high note after he announced in the fall that 2024 would be his last season on the Bruins’ bench.

Johnson finished with 871 wins, a CHSAA record that might never be touched, and 15 state championship appearances. His Bruins also won 33 league titles and had only two losing seasons since he took the helm in 1973. Cherry Creek also produced approximately 450 collegians under Johnson as well as 53 draft picks, including seven first-rounders.

This year’s title was spurred by a mediocre start to the season for the Bruins, who were underperforming early on considering they had 10 Division I commits on the roster. Cherry Creek opened 3-2-1, lost its Centennial League debut to Arapahoe in extra innings April 9, then fell in a 2-1 pitcher’s duel to Mountain Vista the next day when Golden Eagles All-Colorado ace Grant Shepardson outpitched Falke.

“Then we took off — we started getting really hot and won 16 games in a row until we lost to Regis 3-0 (in the semifinal),” Johnson said. “That Mountain Vista game propelled us into a pretty good run. We knew after seeing Shepardson that there weren’t too many guys who were going to throw the ball by us.”

State title rings of Marc Johnson, retiring Cherry Creek baseball team head coach, at his home in Centennial on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Outside of high school baseball and his Disney movie finish this year, Johnson’s other efforts underscored his legacy as a generational coach.

He took three teams composed of mostly Bruins to the Connie Mack World Series, placing third each time. He had three stints coaching the 18U team for USA Baseball, including winning the gold medal at the Junior Baseball World Championship as an assistant in 1988 and then a fourth-place finish as manager in that tournament in 2004. Those achievements, on top of his high school accolades, led to his induction into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Plus, Johnson has served as a part-time paid scout for six different MLB franchises — the Royals, Phillies, Astros, Dodgers, Rockies and Angels. All of the connections he made and success he had opened up numerous opportunities to leave Cherry Creek, including several offers to coach at the Division I level and some chances to manage in the lower minors.

“At that point, I was about 20 years in, and I had to take a strong look at knowing I would be giving up retirement (from the school system),” recalled Johnson, who retired from teaching and coaching soccer in 1999. “I really took a long look at where I fit best, and where I could make the biggest impact. I thought it was at the 17-, 18-year old level. And I’ve never looked back.”

So what’s next for Coach J Bird?

For now, the 79-year-old’s still reveling in the “surreal” finish to his Cherry Creek tenure. He has plans to spend some time in Arizona watching his grandson, who plays at Chandler High School. And he’s going to mull his next step — don’t be surprised to see Johnson land as a bench coach somewhere in the near future.

“I want to sit back and enjoy what just happened,” Johnson said. “And I’m going to give myself a little time about what direction I could go next.”

Cherry Creek Bruins head coach Marc Johnson rallies his team before an elimination game against the Grandview Wolves during the Colorado State 5A elimination playoff game at All-Star Park Friday, May 31, 2024. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post) …Read More

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