Mountain Vista was determined to prove that one loss does not define a season. The Golden Eagles suffered their first loss of the season in an 8-1 setback to Arapahoe during the first game of the …
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Editor's Note: A previous version of this story mistakenly listed Sam Ireland as a senior.
Mountain Vista was determined to prove that one loss does not define a season.
The Golden Eagles suffered their first loss of the season in an 8-1 setback to Arapahoe during the first game of the Class 5A double-elimination state tournament on May 21.
So Vista was forced to battle through the loser's bracket but won the state championship on May 27 at All-City Stadium in Denver with a 7-2 victory over Heritage.
Mountain Vista, top-ranked most of the season and top-seeded in the state tournament, managed only three hits in the loss to Arapahoe, but coach Ron Quintana didn't panic.
“We had never been there before, we didn't know what to do,” Quintana said. "So instead of getting on them and yelling at them we actually went bowling to get our minds idle and then we got back to baseball. I bowled a 157 and 97. I got tired.”
He never tired of watching his team strike back and win five straight games after the Arapahoe loss en route to the first state baseball championship for the school.
The Golden Eagles beat Rocky Mountain, 2-1, edged Pine Creek, 5-4, blanked Heritage, 5-0, routed Mountain Range, 14-4, in the first game on May 27, before toppling the Eagles for the third time this season in the championship game.
“We did everything a baseball team could do to get here,” Quintana said. “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.”
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 first-season Heritage coach Ty Munro, who guided Rock Canyon to the 2015 state baseball title. “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.
“I just handled it like a regular start,” said Liffrig. “I had to get 21 outs. I had the best defense in the state and now I have the best team in the state. I just let them do the work and made it easy on myself.
“We came out against Arapahoe and that wasn't the team we've been all year. We had a little fire after the Arapahoe loss. We never like to lose but that put a little fire under us. We've been to the final four before but that's not cool anymore. We thought this was the best chance to get us a ring.”
Zakhem easily described the feelings after the Arapahoe setback but couldn't find words to depict the emotions after accepting the state title trophy.
“The loss really humbled us and gave us a slap in the face,” he said. “It really made us angry and made us hungry to come back for victory. We knew what we could do because we've done it before. We knew we could come back and win the rest of the games and we did.
"You can't describe the feeling of winning a state championship. It's just amazing to win it all.”
Heritage (19-7) went into action on May 26 against Mountain Vista as the only undefeated team in the double-elimination tournament. It assured the Eagles of playing in the championship game on May 27 no matter what the outcome of the game against Vista.
The Eagles saved their top pitchers and Vista blanked Heritage, 5-0, behind the five-hit shutout pitching of Sam Ireland. The junior worked out of a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the bottom of the seventh to preserve the shutout.
“He's been our guy,” Quintana said of Ireland. “He's been that way for us at the plate and on the mound.”
Zakhem's solo homer in the fourth, a two-run double in the three-run sixth inning by Clay Burke and an RBI single by Zakhem in the seventh provided the offensive punch for Vista, which edged Heritage 8-7 in eight innings in a Continental League regular-season game.
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