LAKEWOOD -- Green Mountain catcher Justin Akiyama spent early Friday morning dressed in his graduation gown, celebrating the end of his journey as a high school student. Hours later he lifted a bloop-single into shallow left field, driving home two runs and extending his career as a high school baseball player for another day.
Trailing the Durango Demons 6-5 going into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Rams remained patient at the plate, loading the bases with three-straight walks. That’s when Akiyama worked the count full before bringing in the two runners to give Green Mountain a 7-6 win and an opportunity to play for the Class 4A state championship.
“I was thinking I just had to believe in myself,” Akiyama said. “I’ve come up big with some clutch hits throughout the season, but haven’t hit well overall and was able to come up with that hit when we needed it.”
What started out as a pitchers’ duel for the first few innings turned into an offensive outburst. In the top of the third inning, the Demons were able to break a scoreless tie with a five-run rally that was triggered with a two-RBI double by Blake Dunlap.
Dunlap and two other Demons would cross the plate before the end of the inning to give them a 5-0 lead. The Rams began their effort to claw back by scoring one off Demons pitcher Lawrence Mayberry. It was in the bottom of the fourth that Mayberry was replaced by junior Casey Dunlap who struggled right out of the gate. He walked three batters while hitting two others, allowing the Rams to fight back and tie the game at 5.
“That’s been this team all playoffs, we’ve been down to our last out three or four times in an elimination game,” Rams coach Brad Madden said. “But they kept believing and I think we let them off the hook a couple of times where I thought we could really blow it open.”
The Rams botched an attempt to turn an inning-ending double play in the sixth, giving Durango a one-run lead late in the game. As the younger Dunlap settled in on the mound, the Demons coaching staff showed enough faith to let him finish the game. After recording two quick outs in the seventh inning, Dunlap walked the bases loaded prior to giving up the game-winning hit by Akiyama.
The win for the Rams cleared up part of the picture for Saturday’s action. With Niwot standing as the only unbeaten team in the state bracket entering the day, a win over Longmont would have pit them against Green Mountain for the title, with the Rams having to win twice to take a state championship. But the easy path was not in store for Niwot, which fell to the Cougars 11-4 in the second half of Friday’s double header.
The Cougars opted to send sophomore Ford Ladd to the mound against their league rival. Ladd had thrown a shutout against Durango and seemed to be up to the task of eliminating the Trojans.
Longmont had other ideas as it wase able to get to Ladd early and chip away to a 4-0 lead. With two outs in the third inning, he was pulled in favor of Cameron Kopplinger who was able to contain the Longmont bats through the third, fourth and fifth innings.
After two hits and walk to load the bases in the sixth, Andrew Baldt slammed the door on the game by crushing a hanging curveball for a grand slam.
“I knew I hit it square, but had a second thought because I knew it was pretty damn deep (in left-center field),” Baldt said. “I started running a bit but it got over.”
With a six-run lead, the Trojans were able to coast the rest of the way. They exorcised the demons of getting beat by Niwot twice in the regular season and are heading into Saturday loaded with confidence.
“The difference today was that (Niwot) didn’t hit it like they normally do,” coach Tom Fobes said. “Will (Amen) just did a great job (on the mound) and when you can hold them to four runs it’s pretty good and we finally got guys on base and came up with those big hits.”
Longmont’s win over Niwot sets up a true semifinal game between the Trojans and Green Mountain at 10 a.m. Saturday morning. The winner of that game will face Niwot at 12:30 p.m. for the 4A state championship.