PUEBLO — The king is still on the throne.
For the second year in a row, Paonia High School won the Class 2A state baseball championship.
The Eagles latest conquest came Saturday afternoon when they held on to defeat top-seeded Peyton 8-6 at Hobbs Field at the Runyon Sports Complex.
“This is a special group,” Paonia coach Nate Miller said. “The boys played well.”
The Eagles finished the season with a 23-2 record and capped the season on an 11-game winning streak. This was Paonia’s eighth state baseball title in school history. In addition to the past two years, the Eagles captured state baseball crowns in 1962, 1989, 1996-98 and 2003. Peyton, which was trying to win its first state baseball championship, ended its season at 22-2 and saw its 18-game winning streak snapped.
“This is amazing,” said senior Anders Schopp. “It is hard to describe the feeling of winning back-to-back state championships. I’m in awe.”
Schopp was a key cog in the Eagles’ final win. He came in relief of starting pitcher Soul Connolly with no outs in the third and fired 4.2 innings, striking out six, allowing five hits and walking four. Paonia entered Saturday without the services of its top pitcher KJ Seriani, who was hurt his right pitching arm after just two outs in the regional final a week ago against Limon.
“We knew we had pretty deep pitching and the boys rallied around KJ,” Miller said. “We had a good attitude about it and we went with what we had, and Anders came in and was huge for us.”
Schopp finally ran into trouble in the bottom of the seventh. Peyton mounted a frantic rally and cut the deficit to 8-6 on a two-run single by Rodney Gregg. That left the Panthers with runners on second and third and two outs.
Looking to slam the door and claim state glory, Miller turned to his son, Jaden Miller, a senior, to pitch. The younger Miller, who had a two-run homer in the top of the first inning, was the catcher.
“That’s all I had left,” said the elder Miller about summoning his son to the mound. “I don’t have any shoes left because I wore them out pacing the dugout. He throws a lot of off-speed stuff and I knew they had their No. 7 batter coming up (Josh Gonzales) and I thought Jaden would be the best option. This is special. It has been hard on me all year because I knew it was coming to an end coaching my son and it was just great to get this win.”
Hurler Jaden Miller also threw a complete-game four hitter, struck out two and walked one in the Eagles’ 7-2 semifinal win over Dayspring Christian Saturday morning.
Leading 2-0, the Eagles stretched their lead to 3-0 in the top of the third with an unearned run on a single by Schopp.
Peyton cut the deficit to 3-1 with an RBI single by Jaeden Meyers. Paonia starting pitcher Soul Connolly couldn’t get out of the bottom or third and the Eagles brought in relief pitcher Schopp with the bases loaded.
Schopp struck out his first batter but walked AJ Strobel to get Peyton within 3-2. Schopp was able to get Brennen Meyers to ground into an inning-ending double play.
In the top of the fourth, Paonia erupted for three runs on three hits and took advantage of one error to extend its lead to 6-2. After Grey Neal’s RBI sacrifice fly in the sixth, the Eagles had a comfortable 8-2 edge – and survived for the victory.
“In the comeback, we told them we are down 8-2, and you can’t hit a six-run home run so just go up there and get on base,” said Peyton coach Kelly Nickell. “We seemed relaxed and made contact and got the ball rolling. We had three guys we knew who pitch in this game, I do think we were coming down the high from the high of the first game and Paonia is a very a good team.”
Paonia advanced to the finals by muscling past Day Spring Christian. The offensive hero for the Eagles was Seriani who was 2-for-3 with three RBIs, including a solo home run to left center. Dayspring Christian ended its season 14-6.
Pitcher Jimmy Fargo took the loss for Dayspring, allowing five runs in four innings.
In the other semifinal game, Peyton won in dramatic fashion when Rupert Shaw had a one-out RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the Panthers the 4-3 victory over Hotchkiss. Shaw’s hit scored Meyers who reached on a walk.
Hotchkiss pitcher Eli Kirk took the loss in relief. Jonathan Gonzales and Chase Hiatt had two hits apiece for Hotchkiss.