DENVER — Turns out the loss to start the state tournament was only a momentary blip for Mountain Vista baseball.
The Golden Eagles, considered a favorite for much of the season, beat Heritage 7-2 to win the Class 5A state championship on Sunday. The win was Mountain Vista’s fifth-straight following a loss to Arapahoe to open the tournament.
“It was surprising, honestly. We’d never dealt with it before,” Liffrig said of that loss. “We knew what we had. We’d won 21 in a row, so five seemed like nothing with the guys that we had.”
“We were hungry to come back and win it all,” said Mountain Vista junior Jon Zakhem. “We knew we had the team to do it.”
It gave the school’s baseball program it’s first-ever state championship. The Golden Eagles also went to championship games in 2006 and 2009.
“It means a lot for players now, past alumni, Vista baseball — anybody that put on the jersey — it means a lot,” said Mountain Vista coach Ron Quintana.
Sunday’s game was set up as an epic pitching matchup, with two of the state’s best arms — Mountain Vista’s Jack Liffrig and Heritage’s Riley Egloff — facing off from the mound.
But Mountain Vista’s offense erupted for six runs in the top of the fourth inning, including a two-run single from Drew Stahl.
Liffrig did the rest, turning in his second complete-game performance of the state tournament. Liffrig also picked up the win in a 2-1 win to eliminate Rocky Mountain in the second round.
“I just treated it like a regular start, trying to keep the team in the ballgame, and just pitch my heart out,” Liffrig said. “I had to get 21 outs.”
That Liffrig, who finishes the year 11-0 this season, was even able to pitch turned out to be a masterful move from Quintana.
In order to reach the title game, Mountain Vista had to beat Heritage on Saturday — they did, 5-0 — and then play Mountain Range in what amounted to a semifinal game on Sunday morning.
It meant Mountain Vista had to set an order for their three arms: Liffrig, co-ace Sam Ireland, and Ben Cole, a sophomore who hadn’t pitched in a varsity game all season until he threw a complete-game in a state tournament win over Pine Creek.
Quintana listened to his players: They wanted Ireland, then Cole, then Liffrig.
“We’d realized we had been to the Final 4 before, and it’s not cool anymore,” Liffrig said. “We decided that this was the best chance to get us a ring, and that’s what happened.”
Ireland threw a complete game in the win over Heritage on Saturday, allowing just five hits in the shutout.
Cole did the same in a 14-4 win over Mountain Range earlier Sunday. (He got great help from his lineup, including four RBIs from Grant Magill and three from Clay Burke. Both players homered.)
“I just knew I had to throw strike and let them hit the ball,” Cole said. “I’ve got the best defense in the state behind me, and I can’t do all the work.”
And then Liffrig turned in his own complete game to win the title.
Check, check and check.
“Sam and Liffrig, that’s what we expect,” Quintana said. “Ben Cole, can’t say enough about him. He came in and, honestly, saved us.”
It put a bow on a season in which Mountain Vista was ranked No. 1 in both the coaches poll and the RPI standings for much of the year.
“This group was a special group,” Quintana said. “We showed up to play, they loved to play the game, and they want to beat your butt.”