Heritage went into the final two days of the Class 5A state baseball tournament at Denver's All-City Stadium as the unbeaten team in the double-elimination tournament.
Heritage coach Ty Munro called it a good season and the Eagles were looking toward winning the ultimate after shutting out Mountain Range 7-0, whipping Pine Creek 12-2 and edging Arapahoe 7-4 in the first three games of the tournament to assure the chance to play for the state championship.
Continental League rival Mountain Vista blanked the Eagles 5-0 on May 26 but Heritage still was guaranteed a spot in the championship game on May 27. In the title game, Mountain Vista topped the Eagles 7-2 as the Eagles finished the season with a 19-7 record.
Heritage had 13 underclass players, including five freshman and sophomores, on its state tournament roster.
Munro, in his first season as the Eagles coach after coming from Rock Canyon where he guided the Jaguars to the 2015 state crown, hinted this season could be a preview of things to come.
“It was my first year here and we're trying to build something great and we played a ton of young kids,” he said. “We got better as the season went on. It was just a really good overall season. We tried to get as many kids as much experience and the seniors bought in. Next year we will be really good.”
The title game matched Mountain Vista's pitching standout, senior left-hander Jack Liffrig, against Heritage senior ace Riley Egloff.
Egloff lasted four innings, giving up seven hits and seven runs as Vista scored six times in fourth inning.
First baseman Jon Zakhem had three hits and two runs batted in to spark the Golden Eagles' offense in the title game, while Drew Stahl had a pair of singles and two RBIs.
Liffrig allowed five hits and surrendered one earned run as Vista completed the season with a 27-1 record.
“Liffrig is tough and once you get behind it is tough,” said Munro. “All the wheels fell off for us in one inning. The fact of the matter is they beat us three times. It's really hard not to argue that they were the best team in the state. They were No.1 and we were No. 2 and it came down to that and the better team won.”
Liffrig induced 12 ground ball outs and three of the Eagles' hits were ground balls just out of the reach of Vista infielders.
Junior Eric McNight and sophomore Connor Cummiskey each had a hit and a run batted in for Heritage in the championship game.
Mountain Vista, which suffered its only loss of the season in the first game of the tournament, won five straight games in the loser's bracket as the top-seeded Golden Eagles claimed the school's first baseball title.
“We did everything a baseball team could do to get here,” said Mountain Vista coach Ron Quintana. “This was a pretty talented team. That Arapahoe loss was bad timing but obviously it could have been worse timing to get that first loss. We got humbled a little bit and it fired the team up. We didn't want to be here (championship game) just to be here. We want to be here to win. You get a piece of humble pie and everybody says you are not the favorite.”
In Heritage's tournament opener against Mountain Range on May 21, Egloff tossed a four-hit shutout and Arian Jimenez-Quezada had two of the Eagles' six hits.
Heritage scored all 12 runs in the fifth inning in the mercy-shortened win over Pine Creek, which was also held May 21. Alex Champagne, Jimmy Hebenstreit, Mason Mitchell and Gunnar Kozlowitz each had two hits in the victory.
In the May 22 game against Arapahoe to determine which team would advance to the final four unbeaten, Heritage fell behind 4-0 in the first inning. McKnight and Pete Chronowski pitched 6.2 innings of scoreless baseball, which allowed the Eagles to come back.
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