Keith Wahl was coaching down the first-base line on May 30 and Brian Bonn was in the third-base coaching box as Valor Christian won its third straight Class 4A state baseball championship with a 5-1 win over Pueblo West at All City Field in Denver.
Both coaches have been instrumental in the Eagles' three-peat as state champions.
Wahl, who spent six years as Mountain Vista's first baseball coach, was the head coach in 2016 when Valor defeated Pueblo West to win its first championship. Bonn, who also coached at Vista, was Wahl's assistant.
Bonn was named Valor's head coach for the 2017 season when Wahl took a job at Briarwood Christian Academy in Birmingham, Alabama, and the former Highlands Ranch baseball player guided the Eagles to their second consecutive title last season.
Wahl returned to Colorado and became Bonn's assistant this year and the two coaches watched as freshman Radek Birkholz limited Pueblo West to one hit in the victory that capped a 23-3 season and a 68-12 ledger over the past three seasons.
“Brian and I have coached together for 15 years now and this goes back to Mountain Vista,” said Wahl. “That's when all this started. Just to watch the culture grow at Valor has been unbelievable. Three state titles in a row is pretty awesome.”
Birkholz worked quickly and threw pitches in the strike zone. He didn't allow a hit in the first sixth innings. In the seventh, he hit the first batter on the wrist, which was first ruled as a foul ball. He walked the next batter and Zach Thomas lined a double down the left-field line to ruin the no-hitter and shutout.
However, the 15-year-old Birkholz retired the next three batters, two by strikeouts, and Valor started to celebrate.
Birkholz walked three batters and struck out nine. He threw 103 pitches, 65 of which were strikes.
“I just tried to keep a good pace,” said Birkholz. “When they try to slow me down, I just keep throwing. I know my defense had my back. I just let them hit it.
“I was just trying to throw strikes. I'm going to call out (teammate) Brady Buehler because in the bottom of the sixth he said go throw a no-hitter and that kind of blew it for me.”
Freshman is solid performer
Bonn admired the performance of his ninth-grader.
“There's something fun about a freshman throwing in such a big game because his brain hasn't developed to go `this is a big game,''' he said. “His job was to go throw strikes and he did exactly that. He was unbelievable. He dominated that zone.”
Valor lost 3-2 to the Cyclones in the second game of the double-elimination tournament on March 22 when Pueblo West starter Kaleb Woltz gave up four hits in 5.2 innings. That forced the Eagles to battle through the loser's bracket for the third straight season while Pueblo West went into the Final Four unbeaten and was assured of playing for the title.
“We've never been in the situation where we have been at the top and had to lose twice or anything like that,” said Bonn. “For us, we really believe that having our backs to the wall puts on a little bit more pressure, but it focuses our guys to love each other to the best of their ability.”
Woltz started the title game for the Cyclones but was relieved with no outs in the third inning after Buehler led off with a solo homer, Birkholz followed with a single and Austin Howell walked.
“The kid they threw, we faced him the first time we lost to them,” offered Buehler. “We were surprised he even threw. But when they did throw him, we knew we had him. I got off and got a pretty good swing on the ball and that started it off.
“We were really confident, super confident the whole year. We ran our league and district and when we lost our second game of the state tournament we said it's us now, and this is our last time. We all came together and look how it ended up.”
Seven different Eagles accounted for the team's seven hits, and Calvin Schonechaum's three-run triple was the big blow in a five-run third inning.
“We had a lot of clutch and key hits between different guys,” said Schonechaum. “Part of Valor baseball is picking guys up. If you don't get the job done, the next guy will pick you up. That's the brother hood we have that kind of keeps us together.
“It definitely feels good winning three in a row, but for me it was more about the brotherhood. Coming in senior year we really wanted to win after the past two years. It was just about being with the guys and enjoying high school baseball.”
Route to title
Valor beat Cheyenne Mountain, 15-5, in a six-inning game May 30 to advance into the title game.
Luke Ziegler went 4-for-4 with five runs batted in the Valor and Schoechaum was 2-for-2 with four RBIs in a game that saw the teams combine to issue 16 walks.
Valor pitchers got a solid relief performance from Justin Estes in a 4-3 victory that ousted Windsor on May 29.
Estes, a senior right-hander, allowed just one hit in three innings and worked out of a jam in the bottom of the seventh inning with the winning run on second base.
“We call that a heart-attack win,” said Bonn. “When you play on the last day, that's the whole idea.”
Windsor left 12 runners on base and six of the 10 stranded runners for Valor came in the final three innings.
Valor had 14 seniors on its roster and the Eagles will be moving up into 5A competition in all sports for 2018-19.
“You know those 5A boys are a lot bigger than us,” said Bonn. “We're always trying to develop our best players. I think every one of the guys in our program have the ability to play varsity baseball, so for us it is how to we rebound next year as we step into 5A. But in reality we get the relish in this for a little bit.”
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