Fans could have easily figured they'd be in for a wild day of postseason baseball last Saturday when the 3A-Region VI Tournament's very first run crossed home plate via a bases-loaded, suicide-squeeze bunt by Denver School of Science & Tech shortstop Buddy Askenazi.
Occurring in the top of the second inning, it certainly served notice to the Bayfield Wolverines.
The Wolverines showed they were up for such a challenge when senior catcher Austin Bushnell bashed a tying two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth.
With their own catcher, Alejandro Porras, tripling in a run in the fifth, the DSST-Stapleton Knights quickly retook a 4-2 lead, only to see BHS sophomore Hayden Farmer erase it with a two-out, two-RBI single in the home half. Upping the ante once again, Askenazi singled and scored in the guests' sixth, but Wolverine sophomore Alec Demko cranked a solo homer leading off the locals', evening the score at 5-5 with just one regulation inning left.
And it wouldn't be enough.
A more conventional sacrifice bunt by first baseman Justin Kahn brought home the Knights' second run in the top of the seventh, and seventh overall, but Bayfield sophomore shortstop Hub Brandon came through with a two-out, two-RBI single off Ben Vandal (ND; 6.2 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 6 BB, 6 K) to force extra innings.
Having relieved Fred Edwards on the hill beginning the fourth, sophomore Andrew Morgan (5 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, HB, 6 K) worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the eighth, freezing DSST second baseman Kevin Perez with a called third strike to retire the side. Morgan became the winning pitcher when Edwards sliced a one-out solo shot off Chris Gomez (L; 0.2 IP, H, ER, BB, 2 K) just inside the foul pole and over the left-field fence.
Leftfielder David Redford's agonized hiding of his head in his hands was evidence the ball had stayed fair.
"At first I was like, 'He caught it,'" Edwards (ND; 3 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 BB) recalled. "But then I saw the ump do the home-run symbol with his fingers, and I was like 'I hit a home run?'"
"I thought I popped up, really. But I had some help from the wind and it snuck out. That was awesome."
"The plan wasn't to end with the score this way, but the plan was to execute what we did," Knights head coach Bob Beatty said. "Bayfield, hats off to them; they battled back when we kind of advanced. Our players played with heart, as they did too."
"They had some hard hits but we were fielding pretty well," Edwards said. "I just figured it would be better if Andrew came in; I know Andrew's solid in relief. He did an awesome job, and it was a good decision."
Intentionally walked twice, Bushnell finished 1-for-2 with a run (courtesy runner Eli Monyek also scored once) and two RBI. Farmer, Brandon and Demko each went 1-4, sophomore Rhett Hoover went 1-3, and Edwards finished 4-for-5 with a double and four runs scored.
Unfortunately, after Salida High School rallied past Loveland's Resurrection Christian 8-4 to join the Wolverines in the regional's championship, the miracles ran out for the event-hosting side.
Bushnell again got things going for Bayfield in the second inning with a solo homer off sophomore Eli Smith, but with Smith retiring seven Wolverines consecutively between the fourth and sixth stanzas, the Spartans had the time they'd need to create fifth-inning separation, as they'd done Resurrection.
Helped by an RBI-single by junior second baseman Sam Tameler and RBI-double by senior shortstop Desmond Lau, Salida grabbed a 4-1 advantage against Farmer (L; 6 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 10 K) and held it until the bottom of the seventh.
"The first game was one hell of a game, won by one in the bottom of the eighth-and that feeling was amazing," Bushnell said. "I wanted that to happen this game, but I really can't complain because it was still close."
Having drawn a walk in the fourth, Bushnell got the last-gasp rally going by wearing a Smith delivery, and remained in the game to score on a one-out double by Demko. Brandon then struck out, but Hoover came through with a single to left, plating Demko and closing the gap to 4-3 as the dugout tried avoiding getting too high-strung.
"What we were doing, we were just trying to scream random things," Edwards said. "So I yelled at one point, 'Put the rims on the tires!' 'Put the cereal in the milk!' Just stuff like that. I blew out my voice! Everyone was with it, everyone was screaming; we had a good atmosphere that last inning."
But in the end it was the Spartans' turn to celebrate last, as Smith (W, CG; 4 H, 3 ER, BB, HB, 7 K) got pinch-hitter Kirk Malone to bounce to Lau, who then flipped the ball to Tameler-forcing out Hoover at second and stopping BHS short of the double-elimination "Great Eight."
As close as the game was, it was only fitting both teams would depart with 15-6 overall records.
Resurrection Christian finished their 2017 season standing 12-6, and DSST-Stapleton 9-7 overall.
Bushnell finished the day a combined 2-for-3 batting, with three runs scored and as many knocked in.
"The first home run, the ball looked like it was a basketball!" Bushnell said. "And I swung, hit it, and halfway down to first base. I looked up right as the ball hit the hill. And the second, it ended up being on a 3-2 count and a straight line drive. I'm surprised it even went out-but it felt great."
Demko was 2-7 with two runs and as many RBI, and Hoover finished 2-6 with a walk and an RBI. Senior Tyler Conner, who went 0-1 against the Knights, finished 1-2 against the Spartans with a third-inning double.
"The coaches told us that everybody thinks it's a 'rebuilding' year," Conner said, looking back to the season's beginning, "so we all kind of came out with a chip on our shoulder just to prove them wrong. And we did."
"It's definitely bittersweet to walk off that field; I definitely have a strong relationship with all those guys," he continued. "We came up short, but what do you do? You move on."
"Every year it's been great," Edwards said, reminiscing on his years playing for Bayfield. "I mean, we started out as those kids on the bench that were hanging out while the seniors were out on the field playing. And we eventually worked our way up to become those seniors on the field that were making it happen out there. It's great to see that transformation."
Bushnell added: "I know I kept on looking back to the crowd and was just saying, 'I want to make you guys proud' to myself. And to be able to do that with Freddie and Tyler was just amazing. I know for a fact that they were probably thinking the exact same thing, and I'm going to miss playing baseball with them...at Bayfield."
"Honestly, today couldn't have been better, in my mind," he said. "I got to play with the team I love."