DENVER — Three teams remain heading into the final day of the Class 5A baseball season, setting up a de facto semifinal on Saturday morning ahead of the championship game in the afternoon.
Cherry Creek and Mountain Vista, facing elimination, both extended their seasons with wins on Friday, and those two teams will meet at 10 a.m. Saturday at All-City Field.
"They're always in the Elite 8 or Final 4, they're dangerous," Mountain Vista star Sam Ireland said of facing Cherry Creek. "We're going to have to come out and play good baseball."
The winner of that game will face Regis Jesuit at 12:30 p.m. for the championship. The Raiders entered the day as the lone remaining unbeaten team in the double-elimination bracket.
Recaps of Friday's games are below.
Mountain Vista 5, Regis Jesuit 0
The defending champions leaned on their ace, and will continue their quest of defending that championship.
Sam Ireland, the reigning 5A player of the year, threw a complete game, allowing just six hits over seven innings, and struck out six as Mountain Vista handed Regis Jesuit its first loss of the state tournament, 5-0.
His performance allowed Mountain Vista to save every other pitcher for Saturday.
"That's huge," said Mountain Vista coach Ron Quintana. "That's what we expect out of Sam, and that's what he expects out of himself. We need all the arms we can have going into Day 2."
Ireland's biggest moment came in the third inning when Regis Jesuit loaded the bases with no outs and the heart of the lineup coming up. He struck out the next two batters, and then got a ground ball to short to end the threat.
"I found a way to keep them in check, I couldn't let them do anything," Ireland said.
Asked what he was thinking in that moment, Ireland said, "Strikeout. Strikeout. Just strike them out."
Ireland also went 1-for-2 with an RBI, and had a huge double which helped ignite the Golden Eagles' potent lineup in the fourth inning.
Mountain Vista hadn't had a hit through three innings, and then Drew Stahl, their star leadoff hitter, led off the fourth with a single.
Two batters later, Ireland doubled. And then cleanup hitter John Zakhem crushed a ball to left field for a three-run home run.
"I just put a good swing on it, and it flew out," said Zakhem, who also drove in a run in the fifth to finish with four RBIs. "When I hit it, I watched it, and I definitely knew it was out."
Said Quintana of Stahl's leadoff single: "That's why he's hitting at the top of the lineup. He's the guy that gets it going."
Said Zakhem: "That single just brought everything together, and made us all click."
Said Ireland: "Hits are contagious for sure. Once we got Drew's first one, that just kept rolling."
It was the 29th home run for Mountain Vista this season, which leads the state. (Regis Jesuit is second with 28.)
Mountain Vista still has plenty of arms left, including senior Clay Burke, who threw a complete-game two-hitter against Chaparral last weekend, freshman Tyler Mejia, and junior Ben Cole.
Likewise, Regis Jesuit has plenty pitchers left, too, including junior Jacob Thompsen, who allowed three hits in six innings against Grandview last weekend, senior Brent DiBiase, and four others who have thrown double digit innings this season.
And the Raiders will be playing just one game on Saturday — their opponent will have to play two.
Cherry Creek 8, Grandview 3
Cherry Creek baseball as an underdog? Bruins coaching Legend Marc Johnson believes so.
The Bruins, now 22-7 this season, advanced to the final day of the 5A season with an 8-3 win over Centennial League rival Grandview on Friday.
"To be honest with you, in my opinion, we've been overachievers," said Johnson, who notched his 800th career win earlier this season. "We talk about it all the time: We know we're an underdog, we're trying to be a wonderdog."
Cherry Creek got a stellar start from senior Nathan Mitchell, who threw 6 2/3 innings and gave up just three earned runs. He allowed a lone run in the second, and then nothing more until the seventh.
"I was just anxious to get out here since yesterday," Mitchell said. "They got a run early. I kind of had some jitters, just from being over-excited, I think. But I settled down, and had a lot better game."
It was Mitchell's 11th win of the season, which sets a program record.
"He threw strikes for us all year, and he did the same thing today," Johnson said. "He didn't walk many people, and gave us a chance."
The Bruins trailed 1-0 into the fourth inning, but it was a small hole compared to the 7-0 deficit they rallied from against Rocky Mountain last weekend. Alec Adolph's double in the fourth tied the game, and then Cherry Creek scored twice in the fifth, twice in the sixth and three times in the seventh.
"We've been in trouble all throughout the playoffs," Adolph said. "We were down 7-0 against Rocky Mountain. Earlier, in (regionals), we were down 7-5, and we fought our way back. So one run didn't really phase us."
Said Johnson: "Unbelievably resilient."
Adolph homered to right in the sixth inning, a two-run shot.
"That's what every kid dreams of, hitting a home run in the state tournament," he said. "Right now, I'm just having fun. ... There's no pressure on us. Senior season, it feels good. I'm just happy to still be playing right now."
Johnson said the coaches asked Adolph to bunt on the first pitch he saw. "Then we said, 'Forget it, let's just let him hit,' and he hit a bomb," Johnson said. "Sometimes luck prevails."
"We did some of the small things today, and that's what I focus on," Johnson added. "In the playoffs, I tell people, big things take care of themselves, but you can't coach that home run. That just happens."
Cherry Creek will start either sophomore Zach Herrick or freshman Codi Trebelhorn on Saturday morning, Johnson said. But, he added, "It may have to be a combination of pitchers. We may have to go two or three guys."
"We've just got to do whatever we can do to hang in," Johnson said.
The loss ends a great season for Grandview, which began the season 3-8 but turned things around to have a 16-game winning streak and reach the 5A Final 4.