GREELEY — All great teams are persistent.
In the Class 3A baseball Final 4, Resurrection Christian was facing an uphill battle. They trailed University, the top seed in the bracket and the defending state champions, 4-0 heading into the fifth inning. The Cougars kept their focus, started chipping into the lead, and eventually crossed the plate for five runs in the seventh inning.
Rez advanced to what amounts to a semifinal with a 6-5 upset of University, the only team who was unbeaten (3-0) entering the final weekend. The Cougars will now face Lutheran, 2-1 winners over traditional powerhouse Eaton, at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Butch Butler Field.
The winner of that game will have another crack at University (26-2 record) at 12:30 p.m. for the championship.
And so, Resurrection Christian (two-time state champions in 2A), has a shot to clinch their first title in 3A. They moved up a class in 2017.
“It feels great,” freshman Will Schrotenboer said of reaching the final day of the state tournament. “They deserve it. I love playing with those guys. We haven’t been there in 3A.”
All three remaining teams, University, Rez, and Lutheran, have one loss. The Bulldogs will only have to play one game instead of two on Saturday, but Resurrection Christian proved again just how dangerous each of the teams have been in the playoffs. No one is going out quietly.
The crucial 6-5 win over University was every bit as challenging as the one-run difference would indicate.
Senior pitcher Colton Widler, one of the talented arms for the Bulldogs, had only given up two hits in the game through four innings. University had tallied runs on a two-RBI single by Jerry Martinez and an RBI triple by Andre Chacon in the third frame. A wild pitch allowed Chacon to score as well. At that point, the favored Bulldogs held a 4-0 advantage.
Resurrection Christian found a spark.
Zach Cook’s RBI single (two outs) pulled the Cougars within 4-1 of University in the top of the fifth inning. Then, Cook came through with another two-out RBI single in the seventh. Andrew Iwanicki and Zach Parrish followed with RBI hits of their own.
Amazingly, the game was tied at 4-4. Will Schrotenboer, carrying a .367 average as a first-year hitter, stepped up to the plate. This was the biggest moment of the season.
“Our coach is really good at talking us through it and getting us calmed down,” he said.
Schrotenboer connected for a base hit and drove in two more runs. With five runs in the top of the seventh, the Cougars took a 6-4 lead against University.
The defending champions were down to their last three outs, but Jerry Martinez came through with a sac fly to make it 6-5.
Cook sealed the win for Resurrection Christian though. He pitched the final three innings after Sawyer Shepherd struck out six batters and scattered five hits. He gave up four runs, but limited the damage often. Shepherd also hit a double.
“Zach Cook came in for relief and he pitched great,” Schrotenboer said. “Zach Parrish came in clutch with that hit at the end of the game.”
Resurrection Christian boasts a 20-7 record. Their opponent in another semifinal game is Lutheran. The Lions began the season with four straight losses, three against teams from other states. One was a close loss against University (4-2), so they did show grit early on.
Lutheran has a young group, but freshman Dorian Pacheco (RBI single to tie the game in fourth) is just one of many players who has shown growth. They are riding a 9-1 record in the past 10 contests.
“We struggled to get things going,” Lutheran coach Seth Sorensen noted. “We couldn’t get any rhythm in the season with all the cancellations. Then, all of a sudden we started to come together as a team and get some momentum.”
Pacheco is a key cog for the Lions, batting over .350 as a freshman. He delivered in crucial hit against Eaton.
“Being a freshman, it is not easy at this level,” Sorensen said. “That kid competes all the time and for him to do what he did in that position, it was huge for us.”
Sophomores Macy Barnhart and Saxton Sorensen combined for seven strikeouts and only one run given up despite facing one of 3A’s best lineups.
Brody Schneider clouted a solo home run to left field, giving Lutheran a 2-1 advantage in the sixth inning. That was Schneider’s 11th homer this season. He has a .551 batting average.
“He is truly a game-changer,” Sorensen said. “It is unbelievable and he’s such a humble kid. It’s pretty special.”
Sorensen snuffed out Eaton’s attempts at tying the game. Ryan Ure did nail a triple for the Reds in the seventh, while adding a single and two walks. Jared Ure fanned eight Lutheran batters and gave up two runs. Eaton finished their season with a 22-5 record.
Now only three teams are left standing in the 3A baseball playoffs. Lutheran, Resurrection Christian, and University, one will be crowned as the champion on Saturday at Butch Butler Field.