Capitalizing upon Ralph Nance Field's unusual configuration, Faith Christian first baseman Garrett Everett's third-inning, three-run smash over the extra-high fence atop a hitter-friendly porch jutting into right-centerfield turned last Saturday's overcast 3A-Region IV Tournament semifinal on its head.
But a defensive move against visiting Bayfield in the frame's top half may have been even more vital.
Fortunate to have Wolverine junior Hub Brandon swing at a third strike for the second out, Eagle junior Macklin Brockmeyer could gut out his painful start no further. Faith Christian head coach Jim Polson had to make a switch before BHS junior Hayden Farmer came to the plate with runners at second and third and the guests already up 1-0.
"Our coaches pointed out before the game, his ribs - our starting pitcher's ribs - were hurt. He got hurt a couple weeks ago," explained FCHS senior Tyler Mattingley, himself the owner of a strained hamstring. "So he was going to come in pitching, and when his ribs started bothering him I'd come in."
Having decked a double to score Brandon, Farmer was the danger man for Bayfield. And when Mattingly struck him out swinging, it was as though the Arvada locals knew their collective "moment" was at hand.
"Tyler came in, got us the big strikeout we needed," Polson said, "and that really sparked us. Our offense really came around, had a good at-bat by our big freshman, who hit the ball out, and that was it right there."
In short order, Brockmeyer led off the home half of the third with a double, then tied the game three batters later when Mattingley cracked a bases-loaded grounder to Brandon, who elected to try forcing out Brockmeyer at the plate. But the throw fell short of, and bounced away from catcher Alec Demko, and Eagle senior Colin Stone (2-2, 2 BB, 2 R, 2 RBI) never slowed as he rounded third, putting Faith up 2-1.
Hunter Cloud then hit a fielder's-choice grounder to Brandon, who then accurately threw to Demko to trap over-eager Jake Radi in a rundown between third and home. However, Mattingly hustled to take Radi's spot at third, and Cloud scooted ahead to second, bringing Everett up with one away.
"I was just looking opposite-field," said Everett (1-2, BB, 2 R, 3 RBI), nodding towards where his ball landed, "and he pitched it outside. I just hit it where it was pitched, and got hold of it!"
Six more hitters would stand in against Farmer, two then did so versus relief choice Michael Gettman, and after a total of 14 Eagles had stepped into the batter's boxes, FCHS held a shocking 8-1 lead. Time and frustration quickly became even more problematic for Bayfield.
"That's exactly what happened," BHS boss Jake Forsythe said. "That's been the story of our season; we make one mistake and it snowballs on us, turns into two, three, four, a long inning, a big inning for the other team."
"That third inning, they were out there for an hour, I think," he noted, "and that's tough on a pitcher."
Moved off the mound to man third base, Farmer (L; 2.2 IP, 5 H, 8 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 3 K, HB) managed to end the devastating stanza fielding a sharp Cloud grounder and zipping a throw to second baseman Jake Brandon to retire Cameron Waugh.
But BHS failed to bring Demko in from second in the top of the fourth, and Faith wasted no time in adding to their advantage, with Everett drawing a leadoff walk and then scoring via Michael Thorne's two-out single. And after the top third of the Wolverine order went 1-2-3 in the fifth, the Eagles needed just three batters to produce the game-ending two runs for a mercy-rule clincher.
"We knew they were a good club, that they were going to fight," Polson said of the Wolverines. "So we just had to be prepared with our best, just continue to execute what we've been doing all year, and it came out good."
Farmer, Hub Brandon, Demko and Kaleb Heck each finished 1-for-2, and Jake Brandon went 1-3. Max McGhehey went 0-2 with a walk, and Gettman went 0-3 but reached base once via a Brockmeyer (ND; 2.2 IP, 3 H, ER, BB, 5 K) error.
"It's been a tough season, a weird season-everybody knows that," Forsythe said. "I was out of town all week, so that was another wrench in the season, having to be out of town for work. I don't know how much effect anything's had on our team, but we thought we were in a good place."
"Coach (Ryan) Farmer did a great job getting them ready; I've never seen 'em more confident," he continued. "Never seen the boys more confident than coming into this, in pre-game, in the batting cage, last night when I met with them. Mistakes we can't mentally get past, that's been our Achilles' heel; we've got to figure out a way to fix that to move forward next year."
Bayfield finished 10-10 overall in 2018, while Faith Christian also eliminated Loveland Resurrection Christian (which ousted Denver's Bishop Machebeuf in the second semi) and improve to 18-3 going into this weekend's State Championships.
"We knew they were going to come out firing," Everett said, "but, we're going all the way, we hope!"