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Big hits late key Air Academy win over Discovery Canyon
Timing, as they say, is everything.
Air Academy junior right fielder Matt Ryan proved that Thursday, hitting a two-strike, two-out grand slam in the bottom of the sixth inning to propel the Kadets to an 11-8 victory over Discovery Canyon in the semifinals of the 4A CSML crossover baseball tournament. Not only was it the only hit of the day for Ryan, who entered the at-bat 0-for-3, but the grand slam was his first home run of the season.
Ryan’s blast off Thunder starter Jake Hluska came with the Kadets (15-2) holding a 7-6 lead – courtesy of a Trevor Goldberg RBI single four batters before – and ended up being the winning stroke. Air Academy has won 12 straight and will face bitter rival Cheyenne Mountain for the league championship Saturday.
“I’d struggled at the plate for a while, but in that last at-bat, I got a fastball up and just put a good swing on it,” said Ryan, who is hitting .452 this season. “It was a great game, and Discovery Canyon is a great team. It really took a team effort to get us the W today.”
Discovery Canyon (10-7) loaded the bases with no outs in the first against Kadet starter Kevin Giordano and took a 2-0 lead on Hluska’s two-run single. Giordano, who was battling the flu, settled down and struck out the next three batters to escape the inning.
Goldberg cut the lead to 2-1 with a solo home run in the first, and Air Academy took a 4-2 lead with a three-run third. The Kadets led 6-3 entering the sixth when the Thunder provided some heroics of their own.
With two runners on base, No. 9 hitter Michael Baker saw his fly ball to left continue to carry in the blustery wind, and when it cleared the fence and bounced in the Air Academy parking lot, Discovery Canyon had knotted the game at 6-6.
Goldberg’s one-out single broke that tie, and Hluska – who was 2-for-3 with three RBIs – was one strike away from getting out of the inning with just a one-run deficit before Ryan’s big blast.
“(Matt Ryan) has been clutch all year,” said Goldberg, a senior. “(The game) was crazy. I think all of our team is ready to have everyone stop talking about Cheyenne Mountain for a little while and show them who’s the better team.”
Kevin Kimbrow, who was 2-for-4 with two RBIs, pitched the final inning. He gave up two runs, but got the last two Thunder batters to ground out to shortstop to seal the win. Giordano finished with nine strikeouts in six innings for the Kadets.
“Matt’s been hitting in the nine hole for us all year, but we went with an all right-handed lineup today and moved him up to sixth, and it worked out for us,” Air Academy coach Bernie Moncallo said. “We didn’t pitch well early, walking a lot of guys, so we’ve got to get better on the bump. We’ve got a bit of a chip on our shoulder, and we’ll just boot them up, play the (championship) game and see what happens.”
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for Discovery Canyon, which committed four costly errors.
“It basically came down to defense,” said Discovery Canyon coach Mike Barbato, who is 6-2 since taking over the team in mid-April. “If we played a little bit better defense, we win that game. They’re a very good ball club, and we did everything we could, but just fell a little bit short.”