DENVER — Valor Christian’s Radek Birkholz knew he couldn’t give up a lot if Valor Christian was going to claim a third consecutive Class 4A state baseball title.
And that’s exactly what he did.
He kept the Cyclones hitless through six as the Eagles beat Pueblo West 5-1.
“We had trust today that if we got to this game that he was going to throw,” Valor coach Brian Bonn said. “We had no idea that he was going to throw as well as he did.”
Birkholz went the full seven innings, striking out nine — including the first three hitters he faced — and walked three. He went into the top of the seventh holding on to a no-hitter, but it was broken up by Pueblo West catcher Zach Thomas.
The double down the left field line also drove in the only run of the game for the Cyclones.
“I’m going to call out Brady Buehler,” Birkholz said. “In the bottom of the sixth, he said ‘go throw a no-hitter’ so that kind of blew it for me.”
It’s only fair. Buehler got the Valor rally started in the third inning by blasting a solo home run over the left field fence.
“Fastball down,” Buehler said. “I ran out of the box thinking I had to get two or three.”
The Eagles continued to knock around the West pitching, forcing starter Kaleb Woltz out of the game before getting an out in the inning. All five Valor runs were scored in that inning.
“My starting pitcher couldn’t throw a curveball for a strike and that hurts you,” West coach Dan Sanchez said. “We settled down and our bullpen did a nice job.”
This is the second time in three years that the Eagles (23-3 overall) have beaten Pueblo West in the state championship game. In 2016 Valor beat the Cyclones (19-6) twice on the final day of the year.
When West lost to Cheyenne Mountain on Tuesday, it set up a one-game, winner take all scenario. The Eagles beat Cheyenne Mountain 15-5 earlier on Wednesday to advance to the state championship game.
In all three of the program’s state championship wins, Valor has never entered the final day of the tournament as the undefeated team on the bracket. And each time, when tomorrow is no certainty, the Eagles have played each game as if it was their last.
“We grow closer when we lose (early in the tournament),” Buehler said. “It leaves a bad taste in our mouth and we really come together as a team.”
Birkholz is the first freshman at the big school level to pitch in and win a state championship game since Marco Gonzalez in 2007. And if Wednesday was any indication, he’ll have a spotlight on him over the next three years.
“I think we set big goals for him,” Bonn said. “I think what Radek has to worry about is not what’s happening on the field, but how do we grow him for the next three years.”
For now, that’s a 2019 problem. The only problem the Eagles have heading into the summer is how to best rearrange items to make room for that third trophy.
It will be the start of a new era in 2019 as Valor will move up to 5A in all sports.