DENVER - Ending the season on the final day of the Class 4A state baseball tournament is nothing new for the Cheyenne Mountain baseball program, but making it to Wednesday’s semifinal, a 15-5 loss to Valor Christian in six innings, was unexpected for the 2018 Indians.
Mark Swope’s Indians have made deep runs in the tournament before, winning it as recently as 2011, but the Indians went 15-6 last year, falling to Air Academy in a regional, with 10 seniors on the roster.
“If we went .500, if we went 8-8, I was going to be happy with that,” junior Aaron Berkhoff said. “I didn’t think we would make it as far as we would, but just the fact we made it this far, is really a testament to our hard work that we put in every day.”
The 2018 Indians, with as many sophomores as seniors on the roster, finished 18-8 after winning a pair of one-run games in regionals and going 3-2 in the state tournament.
“It’s a different beast. You’re in a different season. You’re in the postseason,” Swope said. “Sometimes nerves … and I saw a couple of our kids fighting some nerves. Once you get through it that first time, it’s not so big next time they’re in it.”
The fourth-seeded Indians were the visitors against No. 3 Valor Christian and opened the scoring when Berkhoff singled in AJ Carpenter.
Valor got the run right back off Cheyenne Mountain sophomore starter Cam Buckler via a sacrifice fly in the bottom half.
The Eagles opened a 5-1 lead and chased Buckler from the game in the second inning.
Kurt Dunaway, one of seven Cheyenne Mountain seniors, got a run back with a sacrifice fly in the fourth before Valor senior Luke Ziegler drove in his third and fourth runs of the game with a two-run double in the bottom half.
The Indians fought back once more in the fifth, as Berkhoff drew a bases-loaded walk before sophomore Michael Ellis made it 7-5 with a two-run single, advancing to second on the throw home. The Indians had Ellis, the tying run, in scoring position with one out, but a dribbler just in front of home produced an inning-ending double play after a couple of rundowns.
“We’re really young, but we have a lot of fight in us,” Berkhoff said.
That fight would be tested as Valor get to the Indian bullpen again in the fifth and sixth, scoring four runs in each inning to bring the mercy rule into play after Calvin Schonebaum, another Valor senior, singled in the team’s 15th run off Indian freshman Brad Helton in the sixth.
In all, seven Indians pitchers issued 10 walks and gave up 15 hits to a Valor squad that advanced to win Wednesday’s championship game 5-1 against Pueblo West, a team Cheyenne Mountain beat to stay alive Tuesday.
Ziegler finished 4 for 4 with five RBIs, while Schonebaum went 2 for 2 with 4 RBIs.
“This is a potent lineup,” Swope said of the two-time defending champion Eagles, who have just one underclassman. “When you get behind in the count, you know what can happen. Sometimes you get a little too careful, then you end up walking people, and then it goes bad.”
Berkhoff and Ellis each drove in a pair for the Indians.
While the 2018 season ended on a bit of a sour note, the belief is being one of the last three teams in contention for a state title will come in handy a year from now.
“It’s real exciting. We far surpassed any expectations I had as far as taking a young team this far. You know what, they grew up in a hurry,” Swope said.
“I’m proud of them. I kinda like where we’re going.”