GREELEY — University won their first baseball crown in 21 years when they topped Lamar last season. That team was deep with hitters as 10 Bulldogs finished with a .400 or better average.
Jerry Martinez is a talented batter, but he was not in the lineup back then. In fact, he moved from California around three months ago. He had heard about the stacked blue and white ball club though.
“I just knew they were a really great squad,” he said. “My dad was here before and he talked to me about the schools. I looked into them and their record last year was incredible.”
On Saturday, during a matchup between the only 2-0 teams in the Class 3A state tournament, Martinez and his fellow Bulldogs were able to fend off Lutheran 9-7 in a memorable game. With the victory, University is the only 3-0 team remaining in the bracket. They will be joined by Eaton, Resurrection Christian, and Lutheran in next weekend’s semifinals.
Martinez did his part for his new club, pitching four scoreless innings before finally allowing two earned runs in the fifth. A hot Lutheran lineup, one that produced 17 hits and 15 runs against Resurrection Christian on Friday, was mostly quieted by the junior. He only allowed three total hits and had a pair of hits himself.
“I was going with a fastball and a curveball most of the time,” Martinez said. “Those were working. I needed to stick to that and stick to my mentality.”
He did, but his pitching counterpart, Landin Latino (5 1/3 innings, 4 strikeouts, 3 earned runs), kept Lutheran in the game as well.
The contest was still scoreless after four innings. Finally, University broke the tie as Nolan Johnson’s infield single allowed River Jackson to cross home plate to give University a 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth.
The Lions responded by loading the bases in the bottom of the inning and scoring on a wild throw and a sacrifice fly Brody Schneider. Lutheran held a 2-1 advantage with only two innings to go.
Then, the bats really came alive as each team began dipping further into their pitching staff. A young Lutheran (16-10) team that is growing up quickly was challenging the defending state champions and this year’s favorites.
University’s offense is potent though and the Bulldogs went on a scoring binge in the top of the sixth inning. Mason Ewing scored on a fielder’s choice, and then sophomore catcher Alex Martinez cranked a towering triple to drive in another run.
University tacked on three more runs on an error, a wild pitch, and a sacrifice fly by Johnson and led 6-2 heading into the bottom of the sixth. They had five hits and five runs in the inning.
And yet, Lutheran matched University in hits and runs in the bottom half of the frame. An RBI single by Aaron Morgan and an RBI double by Kyle Budnack pulled the Lions within 6-4. Then, Nate Nejedlo cracked a two-RBI single to tie it. Teagan Rae added an RBI double as Lutheran took a 7-6 lead.
How would University respond?
“For us, we’ve been down before but that doesn’t mean anything,” Jerry Martinez said. “These guys can really hit. No matter what the score is, what inning, how many outs, we just bang the ball. No matter what, we always bounce back.”
While Lutheran again showed off their firepower, and they will be very dangerous in the semifinals, it is difficult to beat the champions. They have a 26-1 record for a reason.
Only a freshman, River Jackson came through again with a game-tying RBI double in the top of the seventh inning. Then, senior Joe Medina singled in two more runs. Another senior more than did his part, as well, in the final inning.
“I have to give it to Braden Furister,” Martinez said proudly. “He came in seventh inning, two outs, behind in the count, and he draws a walk. That allows River to score him in.”
Furister closed the game out by retiring all three Lutheran batters.
“Everybody in the lineup can hit, everybody can pitch,” Martinez added.” If we need someone to pinch run, they do their job. There’s excellent talent on this team.”
With how many members of the team contribute for University, the Bulldogs (Patriot League champs) remain the title favorites going into the last weekend. Lutheran has also advanced to the semifinals.
They are joined in the final four by two Patriot League rivals in Eaton and Resurrection Christian. Eaton piled up 25 runs on Saturday, beating St. Mary’s 9-3 and Delta 16-1. The Reds are also the only team who has beaten University this season, a 10-4 home win on April 6.
Resurrection Christian, a two-time state champion in 2A, reached the Final 4 for the first time in 3A (they moved up in 2017) by defeating Alamosa 18-7 on Saturday. They have a number of talented hitters and pitchers, as well.