DENVER — Sam Ireland badly wanted redemption, and, boy, did he ever get it on Saturday.
Ireland, a Mountain Vista senior, threw a complete game as his Golden Eagles beat Heritage 5-0 in the Class 5A state baseball tournament. He allowed just five hits and one walk, striking out three, in notching the shutout.
"That's who Sam is," said Mountain Vista coach Ron Quintana. "He had one bad outing, and everyone wanted to throw him away, and say not throw him. That's who he's been. To me, he's the best player in the state."
Last week, Ireland allowed seven runs, seven hits and walked two over four innings during an 8-1 loss to Arapahoe to start the state tournament.
"Last week, didn't come out and have my best stuff, so today I was determined to do that," Ireland said. "I really needed it."
Mountain Vista met as a team earlier this week, and the players decided they wanted Ireland to start against Heritage.
"They came to me and said, 'This is what we want. Let's go,'" Quintana said. "These guys believe in each other. They believe in Sam; that's what Sam does. He's been that way for us at the plate and on the mound. He's been our guy."
Ireland didn't do it alone, though. His offense, led by John Zakhem, gave him exactly what he needed. Zakhem homered to left field in the fourth inning to break a scoreless tie.
"That started it all," Ireland said.
Mountain Vista also scored three runs in the top of the sixth, and Zakhem added an RBI single in the seventh.
The win means Mountain Vista (24-1) will advance to the final day of the 2018 season on Sunday. They will face Mountain Range, who themselves got a big 1-0 win over Arapahoe to advance on Saturday.
That game is now effectively a semifinal matchup, and will be at 10 a.m. Sunday. The winner will play Heritage at 12:30 p.m. for the championship because the Eagles entered the weekend as the lone remaining unbeaten team.
Mountain Vista ran through the regular season unbeaten at 19-0, and spent most of the year ranked No. 1 in both the coaches poll and the RPI. But the Golden Eagles felt written off following the loss to Arapahoe to start the state tournament.
"You get a piece of humble pie, and then everybody says you're not the favorite," Quintana said. "There's a few things with these guys that I like. They love playing the game of baseball. They love playing for each other, it's a good group."
Said Ireland: "After going 19-0 and 21-0 through (regionals), and then we lose our first game, and people feel like, 'Oh they're not that good. It was a fluke.' ... We're here to win it."
Mountain Range, meanwhile, got a complete-game one-hit performance from Brayden Brooks, who struck out 10 batters in his team's win over Arapahoe.
"You have a guy like Brayden Brooks on the mound, and you're pretty confident in what you can do," said Mountain Range coach D.J. Yeager. "That kid's an animal."
Said Brooks: "I wake up every morning, and I think I'm better than everyone. Some days I'm not, but today I just had it."
Demarques Ortega drove in the game's only run with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the top of the sixth.
"That's a huge one," Yeager said of Ortega's RBI. "He just found a way."
Ortega also made a game-ending catch with a diving stop in center field in the bottom of the seventh.
Heritage will play for a state title for the just the second time in program history. The Eagles went in 2004, falling to ThunderRidge.
Heritage saved star pitcher Riley Egloff on Saturday, meaning he will be available to start Sunday's championship game. Egloff is 7-0 this season with a 1.92 ERA, and shut out Mountain Range last week in a complete game performance where he struck out nine and only allowed four hits.
Mountain Vista has never won a baseball championship, though the Golden Eagles advanced to the title game in 2006 and 2009. They still have plenty of arms left, including Jack Liffrig (10-0, 1.79 ERA), and sophomore Ben Cole, a JV callup who threw a complete game last week.
Mountain Range has never reached a championship game in baseball. The Mustangs are likely to start Mike Polson in the 10 a.m. game. He is 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA this season, and threw a complete-game four-hitter in a win over Rock Canyon in the state tournament last week.