DENVER - Facing elimination from the Class 4A baseball tournament, Cheyenne Mountain knew it needed to do something big to swing the momentum in its favor.
With a six-run deficit and two outs on the board, all the Indians needed to do was wait.
Seven walks leading to four unearned runs in the top of the sixth inning helped lift Cheyenne Mountain to a 7-6 win over Pueblo West, punching its ticket to the 4A championship play-in game on Wednesday against Valor Christian.
Starter Ty Garcia got in trouble early in the sixth inning, walking his first two batters. After a single to right loaded the bases Mark Barrios, a left-handed sidearm pitcher, came in for relief. He struck out the first batter, but walked in two more before his day was done.
“They gifted us a bunch, and he wasn’t missing by a whole lot. Our guys stayed disciplined,” Cheyenne Mountain coach Mark Swope said.
Tyler Barth resumed work on the mound, walking another two batters before Cheyenne Mountain’s Aaron Berkhoff got the green light to swing, smacking a three-run triple down the third-base line for the eventual game-winning runs.
“Coach pulled me aside right before that at-bat, and he gave me the green light to go and I hit it,” Berkhoff said. “It’s just passing the torch. It was my job to step up after I saw all of those runners on base to get them in.”
After the Indians took the narrow lead, it was up to the Cheyenne Mountain defense to close it out.
But it didn’t take long for Pueblo West to threaten the lead. Closer Devin Dodson walked the first two Cyclone batters he faced in the bottom of the seventh inning, but an athletic play to catch a runner at third on a sacrifice bunt, a strikeout, and a stellar catch in right field by Jack Denker closed it out.
“The last inning, in the forefront of your mind, you’re thinking this could be the last pitch. This could be it for our season. But you have to trust your young kids,” Swope said.
Dodson, a sophomore, said he liked having the ball with the game on the line.
“I was feeling really high pressure at first but then it was just a game,” Dodson said. "It really helped to have that high pressure, and congrats to Denker and thank you for saving me.”
Cheyenne Mountain’s pitching situation is still up in the air for the potential double header on Wednesday. Indians ace Michael Ellis pitched the first three innings and will be unavailable. Dodson, according to Swope, may also be unavailable.
“We are seven deep (pitching) and we will just have to trust the other guys on our staff,” Swope said. “They responded to pressure, and that speaks volumes.”
Since Pueblo West was previously unbeaten in the double-elimination tournament, the Cyclones already secured a place in the state championship game. Wednesday morning’s clash between Cheyenne Mountain and Valor Christian will decide who faces Pueblo West at 12:30.