DENVER — Baseball teams don’t necessarily need hits to score runs. And Cheyenne Mountain picked a great day to learn that lesson.
The Indians went into the top of the inning in a six-run hole, but an improbable seven-rally – on just two hits – led the Indians to a 7-6 win over Pueblo West to remain alive in the Class 4A state baseball tournament in one of the wackiest state tournament games in recent memory.
“Wacky is the mildest word I think we can use,” coach Mark Swope said. “I’ve seen a lot of things and you remember the bad innings that hurt you and you remember the big innings that help you.”
As a result, Cheyenne Mountain will play Valor Christian Wednesday morning. The winner of that game will see Pueblo West with the state baseball title on the line.
The Cyclones (19-5 overall) got on the board in the third inning, on their first hit of the game. Tyler Declusin doubled to score Isaiah Avila, who had walked to start the bottom of the inning.
The Indians (18-7) almost got the run back in the top of the fourth, but a hard-hit fly ball to center was hauled in by Jayden Cordova at the warning track.
Pueblo West capitalized in the bottom of the fourth as a Brodie Blackford single and Dalton Davis double put runners on second and third with one out. Dylan Gist ripped a line drive into right field to score Blackford.
That was the start of a five-run rally, giving the Cyclones firm control of the game.
Or so they thought.
Ty Garcia was pulled from the game as he neared his pitch count limit and the bullpen couldn’t hold on to the lead.
The Indians had the bases loaded having cut the West lead to 6-4 when Aaron Berkhoff ripped a three-RBI triple into left field, giving the Indians the lead for the first time all game. The seven runs for Cheyenne Mountain in the fifth came on just two hits.
“Once we got people on base and once Donaven (Sanabria-Jackson) hit that single to score me, I thought we had a chance to come back,” Berkhoff said. “My coach told me he believed in me and wanted me to hit the first pitch and that’s what I thought when I went to the plate and I hit it.”
Swope then turned to Devin Dodson to try and hold the Cyclones at bay. He got through the sixth inning unscathed but got himself into trouble early in the bottom of the seventh, walking Cordova and Declusin to start the inning.
He helped himself out on an attempted bunt, forcing Cordova out at third. He then struck out Zach Thomas for the second out.
“I felt better (when runners were on) because I knew my defense would take care of me,” Dodson said.
For Valor Christian, the feeling of facing elimination is all too familiar. In the last two years, the Eagles have entered the final weekend tournament just one game away from being ousted from the bracket.
This year was no different entering Tuesday's first game when Valor faced Windsor. The winner was guaranteed to advance to the final day of play.
"It would be great to have and easy way to the state title and be the undefeated team," third baseman Noah Kuzma said. "We've been here twice and we want to do it again. When our backs are against the wall is when we play the best."
The Eagles (21-3) came away with a 4-3 over the Wizards thanks to four strong innings from Josh Danyliw. The senior surrendered all three runs to Windsor, but only two were earned.
And he got help from his defense, including a 5-4-3 double-play that ended a potential Windsor rally in the fourth inning.
"It all starts with pitching for us and our guys throwing ground balls and trusting the guys behind them," Valor coach Brian Bonn said. "We had a few great double plays today with Kuzma leading the pack."
Kuzma also helped at the plate, going 2-for-4 and scoring twice in the win.
The Wizards (22-3) trailed by just a run heading into the bottom of the seventh inning. Justin Estes, who came in relief of Danyliw in the fifth inning, struck Zach Watts to start the inning.
But the Wizards loaded the bases with just one out. The winning run sat 180 feet away when Brandon Rhodes flew out to center field. Josh Barker then hit a slow bouncer to third where Kuzma fired the throw to first, ending the game and giving Valor a chance to claim a third consecutive state baseball title.
"This year our theme was chop wood and carry water," Bonn said. "The idea was that we have to fall in love with the process. And that means letting teams get back into a game and not getting too high or too low and sticking to Valor baseball. These guys each year continue to show that the Valor baseball way works."