First baseman Joel Pierce’s one-out single drove in the tie-breaking run in the top of the seventh, and Valor Christian scored twice more in the inning to take an 8-5 victory over Thompson Valley in the state Class 4A baseball tournament at Metro State on Saturday morning.
The win moved Valor Christian into the championship game against Evergreen. That was scheduled for a 12:30 p.m. start, but after two lightning delays and then heavy rain, the decision was made to postpone the game until noon Sunday, still at Metro State.
Both teams have lost once in the double-elimination tournament.
To get to the championship game, the Eagles had to stage a comeback after falling behind early.
Thompson Valley scored three times in the first, with catcher Mike Berg driving in two with a double, to take the early lead.
Valor Christian got within 3-2 in the third on catcher Noah Kuzma’s two-run homer.
Then with the game knotted at 5-5, Valor Christian shortstop Austin Howell singled and Kuzma walked to open the seventh. After Luke Ziegler fouled out while attempting to sacrifice the runners over, Pierce’s single scored Howell to make it 6-5. After Calvin Schonebaum walked, and Brady Buehler struck out, Jonathan Boulaphinh’s double drove in the two insurance runs.
The championship game was on schedule to start on time when the first lightning delay was imposed, and it was downhill from there. Although the all-turf field at Metro State can absorb considerable rainfall, the lightning, heavy rainfall and miserable conditions led to the postponement, made virtually jointly between CHSAA officials at both the 5A tournament site at All-City Field and at the 4A site at Metro State.
They’ll try again Sunday.
Rocky Mountain rules again.
The Lobos, playing in their eighth title game since 2007, defeated Broomfield 9-5 on Sunday behind senior John Sorensen’s complete-game pitching at All-City Field. It’s Rocky Mountain’s sixth state championship and more affirmation of the Lobos’ current status as the best Class 5A baseball program in Colorado.
“This win says a lot about our coaches more than anything, because we come back every year with new players and they’re always pushing us to be our best,” Sorensen said. “And this year, we had a chip on our shoulder and we wanted it bad after coming up one game short of the title last year.”
Rocky Mountain (20-6) scored twice in rainy conditions in the top of the first inning Saturday afternoon before play was suspended to Sunday. Spencer Gendreau’s RBI double in the first at-bat of resumed action gave the Lobos a 3-0 advantage.
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Last year, Rocky Mountain built a 3-0 lead over Cherokee Trail in the title game but allowed eight consecutive runs en route to a 9-4 loss.
There was no letting off the gas Sunday. Sorensen was mostly dominant while Rocky Mountain, sporting the cardinal-red uniforms the team has worn in every championship win, never let Broomfield get into contention.
“We knew Broomfield was going to bring it, and getting that first-inning lead helped settle us into the game,” said Rocky Mountain coach Scott Bullock. “But we knew we couldn’t just sit on those runs.”
Broomfield (20-7) played without coach Garren Estes, who was in San Diego for his son’s college graduation. Erik Lockwood, an assistant, filled his role as the Eagles received solid pitching from senior Blake Rohm, who turned in five innings of scoreless ball after the first.
After Rohm’s exit, RBIs from seniors Jadon Uhrich, Trey Wagner, Trenton Medrano and Kalen Hammer broke the game open as the Lobos scored six runs in the top of the seventh to cement their win.
“This 10-man senior group has been special from the beginning, because they’re just a bunch of tough, blue-collar kids,” Bullock said. “So to watch them grow into young men and to have so many of them play a crucial role in finishing with a state championship just makes my heart proud.”
The Eagles, who have five Class 4A titles in baseball to their credit, made their first 5A championship game appearance. They finally got to Sorensen, scoring five runs in the bottom of the seventh in a too-little, too-late offensive effort.
“It was just a magical season — our guys were grinding from the first day of offseason workouts, and they didn’t stop grinding until the final out today,” Lockwood, a 2010 Broomfield graduate, said of the Eagles. “Obviously we didn’t start the game like we wanted to, but we never gave up.”
Even in the midst of Broomfield’s final surge, the Lobos played with poise one would expect from a team extending its dynasty, making no errors and playing fundamentally sound baseball.
“I knew my defense was solid behind me, and I was getting a lot of groundballs,” Sorensen said. “And after all the close games we’ve played at state, we weren’t going to overlook a single pitch or play.”
Rocky Mountain posted one-run wins over Rock Canyon, Cherry Creek and Mountain Vista to open the tournament, ensuring the team a berth in the championship round. But the Lobos’ 7-2 loss in nine innings to Broomfield on Friday morning put them in the same lose-and-go-home boat as everyone else.
The Lobos responded emphatically Sunday with a title win that left them as the last team standing in a parity-powered 5A field.
“We just never flinched,” Bullock said. “You can’t ask anything more of your guys than that.” [...]
Fran Belibi may soon be playing above the rim in red, white and blue.
The 6-foot-2 wing for the Regis Jesuit girls basketball team, who garnered national attention last season when she became to first girl in Colorado to dunk during a high school game, is one of 18 finalists to make the USA Basketball U16 team.
The final roster will be cut down to 12 players Sunday, and that team will compete in the FIBA Americas Championship June 7-11 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Belibi, who averaged 15.7 points and 11.6 rebounds while leading the Raiders to the Class 5A state semifinals as a sophomore last season, was one of 133 players who were invited to the four-day trials last week at the U.S. Training Center in Colorado Springs.
“The entire weekend was an amazing experience for myself, my staff, the court coaches,” the team’s coach, Carla Berube of Tufts University, said in a statement. “We thought that having 133 talented athletes in this gym made it very hard for the committee. The athletes worked very hard every single session, every single scrimmage and gave it everything they had. To now be down to 18, I’m really, really looking forward to the next few days of practice.”
Belibi and the 17 other finalists will be in Colorado Springs this week participating in training camp ahead of the final cuts this weekend. The top four teams at the FIBA Americas tournament will qualify for next year’s FIBA U17 World Cup.
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Reaching this stage is another big step in a rapid basketball evolution for Belibi, who only began playing organized basketball as a freshman.
“I went to the first open gym before last year so I wouldn’t look dumb in tryouts,” Belibi told the Denver Post in January as her video of her dunks were plastered on highlight shows across national networks. “That doesn’t seem too long ago, and even though myself and my team have gotten a lot of attention now, I still have a lot to learn about the game and a long way to go with my dunks.”
Belibi, the only Colorado player among the finalists, further drew the attention of USA Basketball while playing at the organization’s U18 three-on-three national tournament in Colorado Springs last month. [...]
Denver Post preps editor Kyle Newman breaks down top teams, players and other highlights from the 2016-17 year in Colorado Class 5A and Class 4A high school sports:
Most Dominating Team
Andy Cross, The Denver PostGrandview Wolves forward Michaela Onyenwere stops to look at her options before shooting against Lakewood Tigers forward Kira Emsbo in the first half of the Colorado state girls 5A Championship game at the Denver Coliseum March 11, 2017 in Denver.
Amid numerous dominating title runs across the board this year, none stood out more than the Grandview girls basketball team’s pursuit of the 5A championship and the program’s first state title. Behind a star-studded cast highlighted by do-everything guard Michaela Onyenwere, the Wolves (27-1, Centennial League champions) did not lose to an in-state opponent all winter and finished with 19 wins by 20 points or more.
Best Non-Title Team
John Leyba, The Denver PostPomona quarterback Ryan Marquez (2) throws a pass down field during the first quarter against Columbine November 18, 2016 at Jeffco Stadium.
The repeat coronation of Valor Christian football overshadowed another standout year from Pomona, as coach Jay Madden and the Panthers (12-2) again boasted one of the deepest and most talented teams in the state at a smaller 5A school. Pomona’s loss to Valor Christian in the championship was the Panthers’ lone in-state defeat, but most impressively, the team overcame a slew of key injuries — to its top two running backs in the playoffs and its top lineman in the preseason — to again make a Sports Authority Field showing.
Most Clutch Performance
Kyle Newman, The Denver PostColbey Ross and No. 1 Eaglecrest take on No. 3 George Washington in the Class 5A state championship game on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at the Denver Coliseum.
In a 5A basketball tournament where literally a dozen different teams could have made championship runs, it was Eaglecrest senior guard Colbey Ross who stood out above the rest and propelled the Raptors to their second state championship. The Pepperdine-bound Ross — who made a number of buzzer-beaters during the regular season — continued his ice-in-the-veins play when it mattered most, including key buckets in the fourth quarter and overtime of the Final Four as well as 15 points in the title game victory over George Washington.
Most Valuable Player(s)
John Leyba, The Denver PostCherry Creek Asher Nolting (9) and Regis G Braden Host (23) battle for the ball in the first quarter during the 2017 CHSAA Boys Lacrosse Championships – Class 5A on May 19, 2017 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Cherry Creek’s dominance down the stretch of the season en route to the 5A boys lacrosse championship is largely attributed to senior attackman and junior goalie Knox Dent. Nolting ranked first in 5A in points (114) and assists (66), while Dent ranked first in save percentage (.696) to propel the Bruins to their state-leading sixth state title over defending champion Regis Jesuit in the championship game.
Kyle Newman, The Denver PostCoach Dave Atencio meets with his infield during the 4A state championship game on Saturday, Oct. 22, at Aurora Sports Park.
For the second straight year, Valor Christian dominated the 4A diamonds in the fall and the spring. It started with the Eagles’ third straight softball title as coach Dave Atencio steered his softball squad to a 24-1 record, and was followed by coach Brian Bonn’s baseball team (22-5) that ran the table to a repeat championship this past weekend. And watch out for next year — each team returns their ace in Alexandria Kilponen and Luke Ziegler.
Cliff Grassmick, Daily CameraMitchell Graesser (5), of Boulder High School, holds up the state championship trophy after the win. Boulder beats Broomfield on penalty kicks to take the 5A state championship.
As is the promise of high school sports, there were plenty of dramatic finishes this year — but none had as much build up or as high of stakes as the 5A boys soccer championship between Boulder and Broomfield. The two teams played to a 1-1 draw through regulation and two overtimes at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, then needed 14 rounds of penalty kicks before Boulder senior Mitchell Graesser put home the winner to give the Panthers a 13-12 win and their second state title.
Kyle Newman, The Denver PostLakewood junior Sassy Coleman wears the team warmup honoring the late Mackenzie Forrest before the Class 5A Final Four at the Denver Coliseum.
After losing star guard and Regis University-bound Mackenzie Forrest in a car crash following last season’s state tournament, the Lakewood girls basketball team honored Forrest’s legacy at their Jan. 11 home game by retiring her No. 33 jersey. That poignant moment only built on itself throu [...]
After leading Silver Creek to the Class 4A state tournament and turning in one of the best pitching campaigns the school’s ever seen, Raptors junior Cole Winn now has a significant individual accolade to show for his efforts.
Winn was named the 2016-17 Gatorade Colorado Baseball Player of the Year on Tuesday morning, making him the first such honoree in program history.
The 6-2, 185-pound junior righthander was dominant on the mound this spring, posting a 9-0 record and 0.73 ERA in 47.2 innings of work. The Mississippi State commit also had 95 strikeouts to just nine walks on the year.
Winn was a force at the plate, too, as the Raptors (16-8) won the Northern League and advanced to the second round of state. He hit .388 with 19 RBIs and two homers, all while maintaining a 3.27 GPA.
The Raptors graduate 11 seniors from this season’s team, meaning they’ll rely on Winn’s arm and bat even more next year in order to replicate their 2017 success. [...]
Although Valor Christian still is a relatively new high school, with its first senior class graduating in 2010, state championships — especially in football — are old hat for the Eagles.
Yes, and now in baseball too.
Left fielder Brady Buehler had a two-run double and shortstop Austin Howell added a two-run single during a five-run Valor Christian second inning Sunday, and the Eagles went on to beat Evergreen 7-3 at Metro State and claim their second consecutive Class 4A state title.
Catcher Noah Kuzma doubled to drive in Howell with the final run of the decisive inning, and after Evergreen fought back with two runs in the fifth and one in the sixth to close within 5-3, Kuzma added another RBI double in the top of the seventh. He then scored on Joel Pierce’s double to give the Eagles breathing room.
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The second consecutive championship came despite considerable roster turnover from the 2016 team. Howell and Buehler both are juniors who played for the junior varsity a year ago, while Kuzma, also a junior, started as a sophomore.
“Each title is special,” said Howell. “Each one has a different brotherhood attached to it. Each one has different stories behind it. This is no different.”
Said Kuzma: “All of our guys really came together. That’s how it’s been all season. … We beat them earlier in the season, they beat us in this tournament, so it was split, but today we felt good about our chances.”
Brian Bonn, a longtime assistant who took over when Keith Wahl departed to take a job in Alabama after last season, also was a first-year head coach.
“Our team specifically had a lot of growing pains this year,” said Bonn. “We have a junior-heavy team and a lot of them hadn’t been on varsity last year. We took the guys who had been there, had them put their arms around the new guys and show them the way.”
Evergreen had come from behind to beat Valor Christian 7-5 on Tuesday at Metro State, becoming the final undefeated team remaining in the double-elimination tournament. But the Cougars lost 12-9 to Thompson Valley on Friday, lessening their margin for error.
Evergreen was awaiting the winner of Saturday morning’s Valor Christian-Thompson Valley game — which turned out to be Valor Christian — but that Saturday afternoon title game was postponed to Sunday because of the inclement weather that struck between games.
Terry Frei, The Denver PostValor Christian’s Zach Reid delivers to Evergreen’s Jake Haefeli in the fifth inning. Reid threw five solid innings for the Eagles, leaving with a 5-2 lead.
And this time, in the rematch, Valor Christian didn’t let the lead disappear.
“It was so cool,” Buehler said. “We didn’t like them coming in. It was fun to beat ’em, fun to play ’em. We try to love each other better, not focus outwards. That was a big thing for us. … We had a new coach and it was really good to get him going fast.”
In determining classifications in the 2016-18 “cycle,” the Colorado High School Activities Association considers Valor Christian’s four-year enrollment to be 934, and Evergreen’s to be 1,056.
The cutoff enrollment between 4A and 5A is at 1,357, not taking into account the percentage of boys and girls in a student body, so both co-ed schools in the 4A title game were well under that figure. Valor Christian plays “up” a classification in football only, but there is a possibility it will take the same step to 5A in other sports.
Valor Christian has won football titles in seven of the past eight seasons — four in 5A (2012, ’13, ’15 and ’16), two in 4A (2010 and ’11) and one in 3A (2009).
Compared to that, two baseball championship trophies is a small collection. But it’s growing. [...]
Rocky Mountain High School, playing in their eighth title game since 2007, defeated Broomfield 9-5 on Sunday behind senior John Sorensen’s complete-game pitching at All-City Field. It’s Rocky Mountain’s sixth state championship and more affirmation of the Lobos’ current status as the best Class 5A baseball program in Colorado. [...]
Rain and lightning forced the postponement of the Class 5A baseball state championship to noon Sunday at All-City Field. The game will resume where it left off, with Rocky Mountain at bat in the top of the first and leading Broomfield 2-0.
There will be free admission to Sunday’s game.
In the first game Saturday, Broomfield rode a stellar pitching performance by sophomore Mitch Morales to a 2-1 victory over Cherry Creek and the championship game berth.
Morales yielded just two hits and struck out five in six innings of work, while Ben Peterson continued to be clutch from out of the bullpen in recording the save, stranding runners at second and third in the final inning. Morales also produced an RBI in the win.
Rocky Mountain and Broomfield will both be in search of a sixth state championship, although Broomfield is looking for its first in 5A. [...]
The Colorado State 5A championship game was called in the first due to heavy rain and will resume Sunday at noon, at All-City Stadium in Denver. [...]
Broomfield, with its back to the wall, outlasted Rocky Mountain on Friday at All-City Field with a five-run ninth that gave the Eagles a 7-2 extra-innings victory.
Junior Tyler Conover had a bases-clearing double with two outs, and sophomore Mitch Morales and senior James Notary also had two-out RBIs in the inning.
“We broke through because of our patience today,” Broomfield coach Garren Estes said. “We popped out 16 hits and we were hitting the ball all game, we just stranded lots of runners. But Rocky doesn’t quit either, and we hung with them and the hits started falling.”
Notary also starred on the hill, yielding two runs on five hits with 11 strikeouts in seven innings of work, while junior Ben Peterson threw two scoreless innings in relief to notch the win and avenge Broomfield’s last-inning loss to Rocky Mountain in Front Range League play on April 13.
“Notary’s been a battler all season long. He gets runners on second and third and throws his best stuff and never panics,” Estes said. “He knew that if he did his job, everyone else would do theirs, and the defense came through and so did Peterson out of the bullpen.”
Rocky Mountain had its chances against the Eagles late in the game with the winning run on second base with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, but couldn’t break through. Rocky Mountain had tied the game in the fifth inning on Kalen Hammer’s RBI and Tyler Hyland scoring on a wild pitch that tied the game 2-2.
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The Lobos are set to face the winner of Broomfield and Cherry Creek for the Class 5A title on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Each team left in the bracket now has one loss as Rocky Mountain chases their sixth title and Broomfield seeks its sixth as well, but first in 5A.
In Class 4A at Metro State, Thompson Valley dealt Evergreen its first loss of the tournament, 12-9. The Eagles used a four-run sixth inning to take hold of the game, and then held off the Cougars’ eight-run rally over the final three innings.
Evergreen now faces the winner of Thompson Valley and Valor Christian at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday for the 4A title. [...]
Cherry Creek looked dead in the water: The Bruins, already with one loss in the double-elimination Class 5A state baseball tournament, faced a three-run deficit in the bottom of the seventh inning with two outs and nobody on.
But in a tournament that has the tendency to wear down even the deepest of clubs, it was the Bruins who outslugged and outlasted Mountain Vista at All-City Field, erasing that seventh-inning shortfall to force extras en route to the eventual 9-8 walk-off win in the eighth.
“Just like we’ve done all season, we focused on getting the lineup to the next guy and not trying to do too much,” junior outfielder Tanner O’Tremba said. “Our coaching staff always says, ‘If you have a heartbeat, you still have something left in you,’ and that’s what we were thinking the whole time. This team never gave up.”
Senior Cody Schultz stepped to the plate and tripled to start the Bruins’ seventh-inning rally, followed by O’Tremba’s homer that made it a one-run game. An Andrew Chavez single, a Schultz walk and a Gunnar Garcia single then tied the game 8-8 to give the Bruins a momentum they never relinquished.
By the time Schultz stroked a walk-off RBI double in the eighth to end it, the Bruins — who are now two wins away from their ninth state title — were playing with house money in a game that was back-and forth from the beginning.
Both teams wasted no time to start the game, with the Golden Eagles putting up four runs in the top of the first thanks to RBIs from sophomore Elisandro Aragon and senior Alex Clouthier.
The Bruins then struck right back in the bottom of the inning with five runs on seven hits. The Golden Eagles were unfazed by the Bruins’ response, though, as Clouthier racked up two more RBIs to cap a four-run top of the second and give Mountain Vista an 8-5 advantage.
Then, Mountain Vista junior left-hander Jack Liffrig settled in and was on the verge of a complete game. Liffrig didn’t yield a hit from the second inning on into the seventh, when the Bruins staged their comeback.
“Just like our last game against Legend — which was really intense and we had to rally — we kept our head on straight today,” O’Tremba said. “If we do that tomorrow for two more complete games, we can end up with the trophy.”
The Bruins are set to battle Broomfield on Saturday at 10 a.m. at All-City Field, with the winner to face Rocky Mountain at 12:30 p.m. in the championship game.
In Class 4A, defending champion Valor Christian cruised past Air Academy 7-0 behind six innings of three-hit ball from junior right-hander Luke Ziegler.
Ziegler also had three hits and three RBIs at the dish for the Eagles, who advanced to face Thompson Valley at 10 a.m. Saturday. The winner of that game meets Evergreen at 12:30 for the 4A title. [...]
When Marc Johnson began his coaching career at Cherry Creek in 1972, the game of baseball looked very different. Stirrups were the uniform norm. Half batting helmets were considered safe. And everyone hit with a wood bat.
But the implementation of the aluminum bat into high school play in Colorado in 1974 — and the subsequent development of the aluminum bat into the primary hitting instrument of choice for high schoolers — forever changed the sport.
“It’s just a different game with aluminum, especially at the high school level, because there’s much less of an emphasis on pitching and defense,” Johnson said.
To understand the story behind the aluminum bat — and to understand why only New Mexico and New York City still play with wood in sanctioned high school competition — requires an understanding of the rapid development of aluminum bats, especially over the past two decades.
As demand for aluminum bats steadily increased throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, so too did the technology. By the turn of the century, aluminum bats at the prep and college level had become so potent, they not only turned the game into a slugging contest, they became a safety concern.
The BESR (ball exit speed ratio) standard instituted by the NFHS in 2003 did little to quell the trampoline-like performance of aluminum bats, and so the hit parade continued throughout the 2000s, until the implementation of the BBCOR (batted ball coefficient of restitution) standard in 2011 that brought batters’ power back down to earth.
In layman’s terms, BBCOR bats are designed to produce batted balls at speeds no greater than when struck with wood — a reverse evolution.
All of which gives rise to a watercooler debate as the final weekend of the state baseball tournaments in Colorado get underway Friday and Saturday: Should high school baseball ditch the ping and bring back the crack of the wood bat?
“If they’ve gotten metal to be like wood, then why wouldn’t we just swing wood? And that’s how most of the coaches I know around here feel,” Johnson said. “But I also happen to know there’s a huge amount of profit and politics behind those aluminum bats too. It’s a multilayered issue.”
PARKER, CO – MAY 23: Maple composite bats in production at the Haag Bat Company in Jim Haag’s garage May 23, 2017 in Parker, Colorado. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
Baseball’s ideological divide
The question of whether Colorado high schools should switch back to wood is almost as polarizing as today’s political climate.
One faction — “old-school” baseball purists such as Johnson — sides with wood. That faction believes using wood bats produces a game more focused on fundamentals, and less on flash and synthetic power.
The other faction — led by the state association — has a different take. CHSAA commissioner Paul Angelico said switching to wood hasn’t been brought up at a baseball committee meeting for at least a decade, and that making a change would be “near impossible”.
“Wood bats would cost schools a fortune,” Angelico said. “Plus, it’s taken years for the metal bats to get where they are today and millions of dollars have been spent (testing) trying to get this right. Now that everybody’s on board with metal bats, to switch again would be neither politically correct or popular.”
New Mexico is the epitome of the wood-only school of belief. The state first went to wood in 2012 as part of a one-year trial period, a move catalyzed by the new BBCOR rules that season that would have required everyone to buy all new certified bats anyway.
“It started at the grass-roots level with a push by our coaches, and it was something where our coaches felt like it was good for the game,” said Dusty Young, associate director for the New Mexico Activities Association. “The safety concerns with aluminium were going to get ironed out with BBCOR, regardless, so the move was because we wanted to go to a more traditional, detail-oriented version of the game.”
And with the proliferation of the composite wood bat over the last half decade — sticks that are designed with reinforced carbon fiber polymer in the barrel, making them tougher to break than a normal wood bat — amateur baseball’s “pro-wood” faction also maintains cost and safety are nonissues.
“As far as cost goes, it’s more effective to use wood, believe it or not,” said Jim Haag, owner and founder of the Haag Bat Co. in Parker. “Parents are out there spending $300, $400 on metal bats every single year when wood composite is where they should go because they have warranties, they’re safer and won’t splinter. Plus, composites are economical and have to perform [...]
Mountain Vista celebrated their state championship victory with the trophy after defeating Arapahoe 3-1 during the 2017 CHSAA Girls Soccer State Championship – Class 5A on May 24, 2017 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. D’Evelyn defeated Evergreen 1-0 for the state title during the 2017 CHSAA Girls Soccer State Championship – Class 4A.
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