3A baseball: Eaton, Valley and Colorado Academy chasing title

(Quentin Sickafoose/CHSAANow.com)

GREELEY – One day and three teams are all that’s left in the Class 3A baseball season.

If you would have told first-year Eaton coach Todd Hernandez at the beginning of the year that his squad would be included in that mix, “I would have taken that every day of the week,” he responded.

The Reds punched their ticket to the final day of the state tournament with a 5-3 victory over Valley at Butch Butler Field on Saturday afternoon, keeping their hopes of winning the program’s 12th title alive.

The win was also a bit of revenge for Eaton, which lost to the same Valley team both on the first day of the double-elimination tournament and earlier in the regular season.

“We’ve been playing them all year, and even since we were little, so it felt good to go out there and get this win,” junior pitcher Travis Cunningham said. “When we play them, everyone comes out and plays their best – no matter what.”

Unlike the first meeting the two teams had on the opening day of the state tournament that resulted in a 15-12 win for Valley, strong defensive performances were present on both sides – and ultimately proved to be the difference on Saturday.

Cunningham had an impressive game on the mound for Eaton, throwing six full innings while allowing just four hits and two runs. The Reds’ defense also recorded a pair of double plays and two 1-2-3 innings to fend off the Vikings.

“When you play in a game like this, you can’t save anything,” Hernandez said. “I thought Travis did a great job. It came down to defense and staying focused all the way through from the first pitch to the last pitch.”

Valley was first to strike offensively in the top of the opening frame when a groundout ball to right helped bring junior Jose Mercado home for an early 1-0 lead.

The Reds later responded in the bottom of the third inning with a pair of runs off a bases-loaded walk that scored senior Walker Uyemura and a sacrifice fly from sophomore CJ Blaskowski that brought junior Zeke Hass through home plate.

Defensively, Eaton kept the Vikings at bay and escaped a bases-loaded situation in the fourth to preserve its lead. The Reds then added insurance with a three-run fifth inning after an error and wild pitch that extended their lead to 5-1. Valley would add a pair of runs late in the game that were not enough to recover from its deficit.

Saturday’s results set up a meeting between Eaton and Colorado Academy, which defeated Faith Christian 2-1 in a walk-off earlier in the day, at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

The winner of that game will then play Valley, which was unbeaten until Saturday, in the title game at 12:30 p.m.

“We were sitting together on the bus earlier saying, ‘Why not us?’,” Cunningham said. “Now we just have two games left to try and pull it off.”

Eaton is seeking its 12th title in program history, and first since 2015, which was longtime coach Jim Danley’s final season with the team.

Valley has seven baseball titles, but has not brought home a championship since 1983. Colorado Academy is searching for its first baseball title in school history.