3A STATE BASEBALL – TOM ROCHE FIELD, GREELEY, CO
Opening Round: Lamar 5, Lutheran 4
After a 13 day layoff, eight teams finally had the chance to take the field at the Class 3A State Baseball Tournament in Greeley. The Lamar Savages began play in the opening game Friday morning at Tom Roche Field at University High School. Head Coach Jason Veyna wanted to set the tone early by starting his ace, senior Dalton Chandler. While Chandler would go on to pitch another gem in what has been a historic season for the Cal State Northridge commit, the Savage team would once again have to fight their way back from a deficit, just as they did in the regional final against Jefferson Academy.
This time, the Savages didn’t fall behind by seven runs, they instead struck first in the opening frame as Chandler plated Lucas Watson with a sacrifice fly and Lamar led 1-0.
Each starting pitcher got off to a good start, though it appeared that Chandler had finally met his match in Lutheran’s Corbyn Seymour. Going into the game, opponents for the season had gone 1 for 121 against Chandler. But Seymore doubled to right field in the first inning, then led off the third with a base hit to left field. Outfielder Austin Sneller dove to make the catch but the ball landed and bounced past him all the way to the wall. Seymour wound up at third base. The next batter, Carson James walked and the Savages decided to intentionally walk Noa Vogel to load the bases and set up a force at every base. Chandler struck out Jacob Chwialkowski for the first out, but then trouble mounted.
Brody Schneider bunted to third baseman Kameron Farmer, who instead of throwing home, fired to first base to try and get Schneider, but the throw was over the head of Colton Eberhardt and three runs came in to score on the play to give Lutheran a 3-1 lead. Schneider made it to third base and scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-1.
It appeared the Lions had snared all of the momentum, but that changed quickly as Eberhardt led off the fourth inning with a deep fly ball to center field. Vogel ran it down and nearly made a spectacular catch but as the ball contacted his glove, he collided with the wall and the ball took a hop up and over the wall for a home run.
Eberhardt’s fourth of the season cut the deficit to 4-2. Then some timely two-out hitting brought the Savages closer. Watson, Max Carere and Davin Jacobs each singled which produced another run and the Savages were within 4-3.
Chandler held Lutheran at bay by recording strikeout after strikeout. The Savages came up in the sixth with 9-hole hitter Farmer leading off against Lion lefty reliever, Seymore. Farmer worked a walk and then Watson was hit in the leg with a pitch. An error plus a stolen base put runners at second and third. With one out, Jacobs was intentionally walked to bring up Andres Guevara, who delivered with an opposite field single to tie the score 4-4. On the same play, the Savages got mixed up on the base paths and the Lions looked to get an easy out. While Lutheran was preoccupied with Jacobs near second base, Watson came down from third to try and score. A throw to Lions catcher Landin Latino was well offline and Watson scored to give Lamar a 5-4 lead.
It remained a one-run lead to bottom of the seventh. Chandler struck out Cole Williams for the first out, his 19th strikeout of the day. But in doing so, he had reached the pitch count limit and so Watson was called upon for a two-out save. Trouble mounted as he hit Seymore with his first pitch, and surrendered a single to James to put runners at the corners. Lamar chose to intentionally walk Vogel again to load the bases. The tying run stood ninety feet away, the winning run was at second. A well placed base hit could have given the Lions the walk-off win. But Watson hung tough, freezing Chwialkowski with a called strike three and the second out. He came right after Schneider who fouled off three pitches before whiffing on a high fastball to end the threat and the game.
The Savages celebrated and exhaled after a 5-4 win to move them into the winners bracket and another game later in the day.
Every single out recorded by the Savages was via the strikeout. Chandler with 19 raised his season total to 114 in 47.0 innings pitched this season. He was not charged with an earned run, thus lowering his season ERA to 0.30, which as it stands currently would set a new LHS program record. Tyson Hartshorn owns the record with a 0.33 ERA set in 1993.
Jacobs went 3 for 3 to lead the Lamar offense in the win. He reached base four times. Watson was hit by a pitch twice and scored three runs to go with the white-knuckle save he earned on the mound.
Winners Bracket Semifinal: Faith Christian 2, Lamar 0
The Savages on Friday afternoon would next take on the Faith Christian Eagles who defeated Kent Denver 7-5 in the other opening round game at Tom Roche Field. The Eagles were able to get past the Sun Devils without having to use their southpaw ace, Michael Thorne who came in having struck out 70 batters in 44 innings. Thorne was given the ball against the Savages, and he along with Lucas Watson, gave the fans in attendance an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel.
Watson, after getting the save in the morning against Lutheran, still had 96 pitches to use on the day, so he was given the start, only his second of the season. But he was very solid, using plenty of off-speed pitches to slow the Eagle bats.
The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fourth. Tyler Mattingly hit a fly ball to the Bermuda Triangle in right field. Three defenders converged in, and the ball glanced off Addison Morales’ glove and dropped in. Mattingly was then sacrificed to second. The biggest hit of the game came courtesy of Garrett Everett who doubled to center field to give Faith Christian a 1-0 lead.
Lamar’s best chance to score off Thorne came in the fifth. Sy Spitz singled and Morales reached on a fielder’s choice where the Eagles failed to get an out. A passed ball brought the runners into scoring position, but Thorne struck out Farmer and Watson flew out deep down the right field line and the Eagles were able to avert the threat.
Throughout the game, a very pitcher-friendly strike zone helped both teams keep the contest low-scoring. The hitters were often frustrated and had trouble adjusting.
Watson began to tire in the sixth as he walked Colin Stone on four pitches to begin the frame. Dylan McTaggart came on in relief and allowed a single to Mattingly. Jake Radi brought in Stone with a sac fly to make the score 2-0. McTaggart and Jaime Vazquez shut the door after that and the Savages came up in the seventh needing to rally, but Thorne struck out the side to complete the shutout.
The Savages, who normally do not strike out at a high rate, were victims of 12 K’s by Thorne who got the job done on 95 pitches. Watson took the loss, but pitched more than well enough to win, allowing one hit and one earned run in 5+ innings. Each team only collected two hits in the contest.
The loss dropped the Savages to the losers bracket where they would need a victory to keep their season alive.
Losers Bracket Second Round: Lamar 15, Peak to Peak 13
Right around lunch time Saturday, the Savages were back at Tom Roche Field, this time in an elimination game against the Peak to Peak Pumas, who had outlasted Delta in a shootout, 10-8 to start the day.
Eberhardt got the start for the Savages and was hoping to start off much better than he had in each of his past two starts, where he struggled with command and only recorded five outs in those two starts. But the Pumas jumped on him for three runs in the opening inning, highlighted by a two-run home run by Nathan Poretz.
Early on, the top of the Savage batting order wasn’t able to do anything against Peak to Peak starter Max Higdon, but the middle and bottom of the order came up huge. In the second, Spitz and Morales each singled to the opposite field, scoring Chandler to make it 3-1. Courtesy runner Vazquez, running for Spitz, came home on a wild pitch and the Savages were within 3-2.
It was at that point Eberhardt settled in and delivered three consecutive scoreless innings and looked like the pitcher that has normally been very reliable throughout his career.
In the fourth, the Savages took the lead as the first four batters reached base. Eberhardt helped his cause with a bloop shot into right, scoring Guevara to tie the score at 3-3. Spitz was up next and again smoked line drive to the opposite field to score two and give Lamar a 5-3 lead.
Just when it appeared the Savages had gained control, things went horribly wrong.
In the top of the fifth, Eberhardt walked the first two batters, who each were down 0-2 in the count, but came back to reach base. On a few occasions, Eberhardt and the Savages were certain they had gotten a third strike but it was not called by the home plate umpire, whose zone was wildly inconsistent throughout the contest. Frustration began to mount, and the Pumas drew within 5-4 on a single from Matt Bagnato. Eberhardt was able to strike out Higdon, and then Baylor Weyer grounded into a fielder’s choice to third baseman Farmer, who fired home to get a force out. Lamar was an out away from maintaining the lead, but it wasn’t meant to be. A wild pitch and two more walks gave the Pumas the lead.
Coach Veyna reached his breaking point after Davin Jacobs came on to replace Eberhardt. A wild pitch resulted in a close play at the plate. Initially, the home plate umpire did not make a call, and Jacobs covering the plate, showed him the ball, indicating he had tagged the runner. The umpire signaled safe, and the Savage fans began to voice their displeasure. After a lengthy discussion, Veyna walked back to the dugout and turned around for one more word to the umpire, who ejected him from the contest. Veyna left to a loud applause from the Savage faithful. Four walks, two wild pitches and one base hit scored five runs and Peak to Peak led 8-5.
Down three, without their head coach and the winds gone from the sails, the Savages mounted a rally that will be remembered for years to come.
On the first pitch of the bottom of the fifth, Carere led off with a base hit. On the next pitch, Jacobs was plunked and just like that, there were two on and nobody out. Peak to Peak brought in second baseman Isaac Van Tol to pitch. Later with one out, Chandler walked to load the bases. Eberhardt followed with an infield single to deep short, scoring Carere to make it 8-6. Spitz came up and worked the count full, and grounded out to the right side of the infield, scoring Guevara and it was 8-7. After Morales walked to load the bases, Farmer delivered a game-tying to single to left, scoring Chandler and it was 8-8.
The Savage fans had gotten their mojo back with the rally. Then, the roof came off on the next pitch.
Van Tol’s pitches were slow to the plate as he was more or less just lobbing the ball home. After Farmer’s hit, the lineup turned over to senior Lucas Watson, who had plenty of chances to see Van Tol’s pitches and he came up knowing what to do.
Van Tol left one out over the middle, and Lucas swung for the fence and did not miss it.
The bomb deep to left cleared the fence for a grand slam and a 12-8 Lamar lead. Savage Nation lost their collective minds in jubilation as Watson’s shot capped a seven-run frame to answer the five spot put up by the Pumas in the top half.
But like the start of the fifth, the Savages went to the sixth feeling good, only to see the momentum shift again, albeit briefly. Jacobs allowed singles to Riley Feddema and Hunter Wilcox, and then Bagnato blasted a ball over the left field fence. Just like that, the Savage lead was cut to one at 12-11. Jacobs then hit Niko DeNiro and appeared to be all out of sorts, but to his credit, he recovered to get three ground ball outs to keep Lamar in front.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Savages answered again. An error brought in Chandler, who had singled to start the inning, and Lamar led 13-11. With two outs, Watson would walk to load the bases for Max Carere, the team leader in hits throughout the season. Max would come through again, going the other way with a line drive to plate two more runs and the Savages led 15-11 going to the seventh, needing three outs to advance.
The first two outs were relatively easy to get for Jacobs. After walking the lead off hitter, he got a strikeout and a pop out. But third out was elusive. The Pumas refused to go away quietly. Bagnato singled in a run for his 5th RBI of the day. DeNiro then doubled home a run to make it 15-13 and the tying run was at second base. Jacobs though got Higdon to hit a flare toward shallow left, but Watson backed up a couple of steps from shortstop and made the catch to end the wild affair that took two hours and 45 minutes to complete.
The win keeps the hopes of state championship alive for Lamar, who advances to the 3A Final Four, of which play will begin on Friday, June 1 at Butch Butler Field in Greeley. The first game of the day will be at 10:00 am featuring Faith Christian taking on Eaton. Then the Savages will play University at 12:30 pm. The Bulldogs, who the Savages beat 5-4 at the Hampton Inn Classic in La Junta on March 23 are the only unbeaten team left in the bracket after the first weekend.
For the Savages, a loss eliminates them from the tournament, while a win over University would advance them to the 10:00 am game on Saturday, June 2 versus the winner of the Faith Christian/Eaton game. A win in that game would pit them against University again at 12:30 pm for the state championship.
The grand slam hit by Watson was his first long bomb of the season, and the third grand slam for the Savages in 2018. Colton Eberhardt hit one in a 22-0 win over Trinidad on April 19, and Davin Jacobs had the four-run bomb off the scoreboard at Buena Vista in the TPL Championship game on May 5. The Savages have hit 12 home runs overall this season.
Max Carere with 42 hits on the season, is now one hit away from tying the Savage record for hits in a season (43), accomplished by none other than Savage skipper Jason Veyna in 2006. It is likely that the Savages will be without their head coach against University, due to his ejection in the game with Peak to Peak.
But nonetheless, it was a thrilling and memorable first weekend for the Savages at the state tournament, and they’ll be back for more thrills this upcoming weekend.