LAKEWOOD – The situation couldn’t have been set up any better for Ian Garcia.
The Pueblo West junior found himself at the plate Saturday at All-Star Park with the bases loaded and the score tied up in the seventh inning.
At stake was a guaranteed spot in the Class 4A state championship game next weekend. Looking to simply get one run across the plate, Garcia instead ripped his third triple of the game, sparking a four-run inning that gave the Cyclones a 9-6 victory over Valor Christian.
Pueblo West (20-4) will face Windsor on Friday at All-Star Park, and Valor Christian will face Erie. The Cyclones will play Saturday for the championship regardless of Friday’s outcome.
“I was just having fun,” Garcia said. “Since we came up here we’ve had one goal. Our main goal is to take state, but we’re taking it one team at a time. Our goal today was to beat Valor and that’s what I was out to do.”
It took much longer than either team expected for the outcome to be decided. A pair of elimination games were played earlier in the day, with Erie outlasting Longmont 20-16 on Saturday morning in a three-hour affair. The Tigers then went 12 innings before pulling out a 6-5 victory over Mountain View, moving the winner’s bracket game back two-and-a-half hours.
“It was difficult. We were very anxious to get that next run in,” said Pueblo West’s Zach Maize, who earned the victory by pitching six solid innings. “We were trying to keep our composure and just stay focused.”
After going up twice only to have the Eagles tie it up both times, the Cyclones took a 5-2 lead in the fourth inning, with Garcia’s second triple the big hit of the frame. Valor Christian (20-4) responded again in the bottom of the inning with a 2-run home run from Levi Walters and a solo shot from pinch-hitter Calvin Schonebaum.
The game stayed knotted up at 5-5 until the seventh. Alan Garcia led off with a single off Josh Danyliw, and after a sacrifice bunt, DJ Cordova was safe on a fielder’s choice. Cody McAteer walked to load the bases, and Garcia followed with a deep drive to center field.
“I was thinking I’ve already seen this guy and I know what he has,” said Garcia, who 4-for-5 with four RBIs and three runs scored. “I was just trying to put the ball in the air and maybe get a sac fly and bring in a run. It just happened to go a little further than I expected.”
Lucas Quimby drove in Garcia with a groundout to make it 9-5. Valor Christian got a run off reliever Mitchell Wagoner in the bottom of the seventh, but the junior induced a game-ending double play to keep Pueblo West perfect in the tournament.
Nyk Crumrine pitched five innings for Valor, allowing five runs. Jonathan Boulaphinh had three hits and Sean Rooney and Walters added two each.
“They’re a good team. They’re hard to get a lead against,” Eagles coach Keith Wahl said. “They put the pressure on you when they get the first bat, and what are you going to do? They’re an excellent ballclub.”
The two teams were in this exact same position in 2013. Pueblo West defeated the Eagles to lock up a spot in the state title game, but the Cyclones lost back-to-back games to Mountain View on the final weekend.
“Right now we’re just trying to learn that we need to execute every single thing. All the little things matter,” Maize said. “We’re just trying to get all the little things down.”
Valor Christian finds itself in a must-win situation from here on out, starting with Friday’s game against Erie.
“We just have to come out and pitch, play defense and post quality at-bats like we have all year,” Wahl said. “That’s it. It’s simple, but the most difficult thing in the world. That’s the game of baseball.”