PUEBLO — All week, coach Stacey Graham kept preaching to his Rye baseball team to never stop believing in itself no matter the circumstances.
The Thunderbolts did and it paid off in a coveted Class 2A state title Saturday at the Runyon Sports Complex.
Rye rallied for four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to capture a dramatic 12-10 victory over defending state champion Resurrection Christian at Andenucio Field.
"These guys compete and battle and never give up," said Graham, whose team trailed 9-4 after the top of the fifth inning. "We had a rope in our dugout and I told them at the beginning of the week to hold on to the rope, never let go no matter what we are faced with and we will pull through and they believed it and it showed."
The victory let the Thunderbolts end their magical season with a perfect 25-0 record and at the same time avenge the semifinal defeats in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Rye, which last won state in 2011, advanced to the finals Saturday with a heart-pounding 9-8 semifinal win over Hotchkiss in a game which it trailed 6-0 — and won on a hidden-ball trick.
"We haven't experienced being behind, so it was big time for us to battle back and win," Graham said.
Resurrection Christian, which won state in 2012 and 2014, capped its season with an 18-5 record. The Cougars won their semifinal game 4-0 over Burlington, thanks to an outstanding performance by pitcher Koby Bishop.
"On a stage like this you have to capitalize on your opportunities and you can't let a good team hang around too long," Resurrection coach Grant MacAlmon said. "I was aware of how hungry Rye was and that game seemed to take forever (nearly three hours). It was a mental grind and we just didn't do enough to win."
Rye had several big at-bats in the sixth, but none bigger than Kevin Bailey's.
The sophomore crushed a two-run, go-head double, finishing the game 2-for-4 with two doubles and four RBIs.
"Our coach (Graham) prepared us for this day," Bailey said. "I was just trying to put the ball in play with two strikes and I got an inside fastball and I just took it. I was real happy and this is an amazing feeling to win state."
The Thunderbolts' Chance Abert then smashed a single to right moments later to put Rye up 11-9 and Rye added one more run on a wild pitch.
"That was a huge hit by Chance to get us that run," Graham said.
Leading 12-9, Rye brought in senior pitcher Trent Hughes in the top of the seventh. Hughes, who started against Hotchkiss, entered this weekend with five no-hitters this season.
With two outs, the Cougars scored one run when Bailey dropped a pop up to first base by Luke Fick. Resurrection Christian still had two runners on base, but Hughes wasn't about to let this win slip through his team's grasp. He was able to get Brendan Herrfeldt to fly out to end the game and start the celebration.
"This is incredible," said the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Hughes, who had a huge grand slam in Rye's win over Hotchkiss. "We put in all the hard work. The blood, the sweat, and the tears and to have it end with us winning state is the best feeling ever. I couldn't ask to be a part of a better team and a better group of guys."
Rye's game against Hotchkiss was crazy. The game included a one hour 16-minute lightning/rain delay before Rye came to bat in the bottom of the sixth inning. The game also was moved from Hobbs Field to Andenucio Field to be completed because the 'Nuch Field handled the moisture better.
As for the ending, it was one for the ages.
Hotchkiss pinch runner Colton Deluzio, who was on second base, was fooled by Rye pitcher Junior Ortiz on the hidden ball trick. Ortiz stepped off the rubber and fired toward second base for a pick off. The Rye infielders were all running around as if it was a wild throw into the outfield.
Deluzio then took off toward third base and Ortiz, with the ball in his glove, tagged him.
"It was executed on their end," Hotchkiss coach Blake Carlquist said about the final play. "I couldn't yell loud enough (to our runner to go back). I couldn't quite get my message relayed to the base runner. You never want a game to end like that, but sometimes that's the way it goes."
Hotchkiss ended the season 21-3.
"We weren't real sure if it (the hidden ball trick) was going to work," Rye coach Graham said. "We practice it quite a bit and we ran it one time successfully, and it worked again. It's a tough play to do and the guys executed it real well."
Video via Jason Carter/KRDO