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Air Academy's late power surge leads it past Cheyenne Mountain in 4A Metro title game
Air Academy kept itself in the game against Cheyenne Mountain with aggression, intelligence and a little luck.
Then the Kadets pulled away with sheer power.
Air Academy unleashed three home runs in the final two innings to break a tie and beat Cheyenne Mountain 9-5 in the 4A Metro championship game on Saturday.
The big blow came from catcher Trevor Goldberg, whose two-run shot off bounced off the top of the wall and over in the sixth inning to break a 5-5 tie.
"I saw (it bounce off the wall) when I was running down to first," said Goldberg, a junior captain. "My coach was going berserk over there and I just ran around the bases as fast as I could because I was so pumped up."
Goldberg's blast off came off former club teammate Michael Levar in the first batter after Cheyenne Mountain pulled starter Bret Helton. Billy Shawtraw added a solo home run later in the sixth and Jeremy Hochmuth hit a moonshot off Jack Stimple to lead off the seventh that knocked a fan out of his lawn chair at the top of an embankment beyond left field.
The home runs provided the difference, but it was an entirely different brand of baseball that allowed Air Academy (16-2, 10-0 4A Metro) to hang around in the early innings as it fought to avoid a second consecutive runner-up finish in the league.
By aggressively running the bases, the Kadets forced three throwing errors over the first four innings -- two of which led directly to runs.
It wasn't blind aggression, as Air Academy helped itself with shrewd moves. The best came in the fourth inning when Kevin Giordano, who was on second, broke for third when he realized Helton wasn't paying attention to him before stepping onto the rubber. Helton reacted and threw wildly to third, allowing Giordano to score and Curtis Butler to move to third, where he eventually scored on a ground ball.
"We're not a big proponent of the 'Moneyball' where you've got to walk and not steal," Air Academy coach Bernie Moncallo said. "We're going to try to put pressure on teams and today it worked out in our favor."
Helton's two-run home run had Cheyenne Mountain (14-4, 9-1) up 2-1 after two innings before Air Academy tied it in the third and added three in the fourth.
Cheyenne Mountain battled back for another tie after a Helton sacrifice fly and a two-out, two-run single from Stimple.
As Air Academy started powering the ball over the fence the Indians were spoiling their comeback chances with double plays in three of the final four innings -- including two where runners were doubled up on fly balls to outfielders.
"We haven't run the bases well all year," Cheyenne Mountain coach Mark Swope said. "We've got to spend some more time on that. It takes at-bats away from our guys and we're a pretty good hitting team. We'll clean that up and we'll get better for the late run."
Moncallo acknowledged that his team caught some breaks. Two run-scoring hits bounced just over or under Cheyenne Mountain gloves and the Indians were uncharacteristically sloppy at times, committing six errors.
"In anything you do you've got to have a little luck," Moncallo said.
The victory clearly meant a lot to the Kadets, who piled on the ground in celebration. As league champions they will undoubtedly host a district next weekend.
The Indians might also draw a top-eight seed and host, but even if they don't, they won state last year as the No. 23 seed. It would be folly to count them out.
"That was going to be a good game," Swope said. "You play those guys 10 times and it's going to be 5-5. We'll learn. We'll respond. We're preparing for the postseason. We'll come back from this."