COLORADO SPRINGS — As the Pueblo West bus pulled up to the west side of UC Health Park, coach Dan Sanchez was sizing up what his team was up against.
The Cyclones had to beat Silver Creek twice on Saturday if a state championship title was heading south on I-25 rather than north.
He knew it could be done since his team had been on the receiving end of two losses on the final day. Knowing this, he challenged his boys as the bus rolled to a stop.
If they didn't believe they were winning two games on Saturday, they weren't allowed off. No one flinched and no one hesitated. They all believed.
After rallying in the first game 6-5 thanks to a walk-off base hit from Tyler Barth, the Cyclones jumped on Silver Creek ace Michael Wegleitner early and came away with an 8-6 win in game two to claim the Class 4A baseball title.
"I'm super excited for them," Sanchez said. "We've run through the gauntlet of emotions the last four years and most of them have been a part of it. It's awesome."
And it started with nothing but belief. And briefly, it felt like that well was going to run dry as a four-run third inning put the Cyclones (28-3 overall) in a hole early.
They fell behind 5-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth inning, but put together a rally to tie the game. A trip into the eighth inning resulted in Barth driving in Jayden Cordova to end the game and force a second and deciding championship game in the afternoon.
"After I got that hit, I knew we had a great shot of getting through (the second game)," Barth said.
Silver Creek (27-4) still had Wegleitner - one of its top two pitchers - in its back pocket, but the West bats got rolling early. A Brodie Blackford single in the first scored Kyle Jameson and Tyler Declusin.
The Raptors battled back as Cam Hassert scored on a Chris Brown single and Justin Swenson scored on a Hassert ground ball to second.
But a 2-RBI single from Barth scored Cordova and Blackford. Between the two games, Barth went 4-for-8 and drove in four runs.
Overall it was timely hits that forced Wegleitner off the mound.
Then it was on the lefty pitching combination of Dylan Gist and Devin Neff to keep the Raptors in check. With limited options when it came to arms, Sanchez couldn't say enough about the job those boys did in a tough spot.
"We were short on arms and they hadn't thrown a bunch all year," Sanchez said. "Dylan Gist is a gamer. He shows up all the time in the state tournament."
And that tradition remained intact on Saturday. He entered the first game in relief of Dalton Davis and threw 1.1 innings and struck out two Silver Creek hitters. He kept the Raptors scoreless which allowed the Cyclones to win the game in the eighth inning.
Then he turned around and started the championship game.
"I was throwing strikes and I had my defense to back me up," Gist said. "I trust those guys with my life. There's no better defense out there."
Silver Creek had gone the entire year without losing to a Colorado team but that streak ended with the losses to the Cyclones.
It caps a remarkable turnaround year after going 9-10 in 2018. First-year coach Brad Steward had his team three innings away from a state championship. If anyone knows the pain of losing two games on the final day of the tournament, it's the Cyclones.
"Last year was so heartbreaking," Blackford said.
With one loss under their belt coming into the weekend, the Cyclones were in an unfamiliar position where they couldn't surrender a game this time. It was win or go home and the Cyclones' faith in themselves was rewarded with the program's first baseball championship.
"They did it internally which is what we've been preaching all year," Sanchez said. "When the team starts controlling things within themselves, that's when things are good"