LAKEWOOD — A two-run lead had evaporated with one hit. But it didn’t faze the Caliche Buffaloes. They scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning and Brayden Nichols held defending champion Nulca to just two hits to help Caliche win its second Class 1A state baseball title in four years.
“We knew we were good,” coach JP Lambrecht said. “We knew we could compete with these other guys in 1A. We played a tough 2A schedule and our seniors busted their butts for four years to try and get here.”
They didn’t just get there, they came away with the trophy that every team hopes to earn at the beginning of the season.
The Buffaloes (16-9 overall) got things started in the second inning. Mike Foster led things off with a triple and scored when Skyler Armstrong hit a ground ball to second base.
They got their second run of the game in the third when Zeke Johnson circled the bases thanks to a couple of throwing errors by the Mustangs (11-11).
But that two-run lead evaporated in the fourth inning thanks to a 2-RBI single from Cord Colson. The inning started off with a hit batter and a walk, something uncharacteristic for Nichols.
“I just needed to focus back,” Nichols said. “There at the end (of the inning) I found out what I was doing and I tweaked my delivery a little bit.”
He struck out three batters in a row to end that inning inning and allowed just one more hit the rest of the game.
But the game was now tied.
And the Buffaloes themselves weren’t getting the bat on the ball as well as they’d like. They had just one hit heading into the top of the fifth. Brock Briscoe got on with a single, Caleb Roth reached on an error and then Nichols helped his own cause with an RBI double.
Johnson then connected on a check swing and the ball squirted up the middle and scored two, giving Caliche a three-run lead.
“I wasn’t trying to swing at that,” Johnson said. “It felt great. The atmosphere was amazing. This is the biggest crowd we’ve had all year, so everything about it was great.”
With six outs to go, the Mustangs were hoping to overcome their struggles facing Nichols. Steven Vaughn reached base on a single in the sixth, but Nichols responded by striking out Sammy Puderbaugh to end the inning.
When he went out for the top of the seventh, he felt a little more electricity knowing that he and his team were just three outs away from a championship.
“You almost want it to be that way,” he said. “You realize that you’re just three outs away from a state championship so just get go out there and do it.”
He was involved with all three outs of the inning. He fielded a ground ball for the first and the struck out the final two batters he faced, sending his coaches and his teammates into a frenzy.
“This is our second one in four years,” Lambrecht said. “It’s something you put in the trophy case and when people come back and see it, they pat you on the back. It’s a nice feeling.”