Already with graduation long behind him, Bayfield High School catalyst Cade Carlson didn’t want what could potentially be the last baseball game he’d ever play to end, with a roaring Wolverine Field crowd backing him and teammates relying upon him.
He also didn’t want to over-contemplate – and perhaps complicate – what could end up being his final plate appearance.
Known for first-pitch swinging, Carlson immediately crashed a double to deep centerfield leading off the bottom of the Class 3A Region 3 tournament championship’s seventh inning.
“All I could think was that if this was going to be my last at-bat, then I’m going to make it count,” said the senior. “And, you know, thank God I got on base. I was hoping to start something. It didn’t, but to me it was a good way to finish my season.”
With BHS trailing Colorado Springs-based The Classical Academy 7-2 at the time, Carlson would advance to third when Isaac Ross grounded out unassisted to Titan first baseman Vinny Miller, then sprinted home when TCA senior right-hander Kobe Katayama, working in long relief of sophomore lefty Miller, pitched wild to Lance Mazur.
Mazur would draw a walk, bringing up Noah Chamblee. Having broken up Miller’s developing no-hit bid with a clean single into right filed leading off the home half of the fourth (courtesy runner Dante Candelaria would snap the shutout, scoring Bayfield’s first run when then-shortstop Katayama overthrew a 4-6-3 double-play relay past then-first baseman Tyler Bonaquista), the sophomore slugger shot a grounder up the middle to TCA second baseman Josh Dunn’s right.
With a game-turning two-out, two-run homer off Mazur already to his name, Dunn somehow managed to range over and make the scoop, quickly step on the bag, and in the same motion fire the ball over to Miller for a title-clinching double play to prolong The Classical Academy’s 2021 season while abruptly ending the Intermountain League champs’ in the state tournament’s opening 24-team, single-elimination phase.
“Feels awesome. We’re a 20-seed, no one’s expecting anything out of us, and we came out, won a regional,” said Titan senior catcher Ryan Howard, whose own two-run home run earlier in the day highlighted a six-run sixth inning against 13-seed Bennett, leading to an 8-2 upset victory. “We’re not done yet – not even close to done – but it feels good to get this out of the way.”
And for TCA, the regional victory to advance to the eight-team, double-elimination bracket Friday was a bit of justice after feeling undervalued when regional brackets came out Sunday.
“That whole 3A bracket was a mess with the RPI stuff. I’m not the mathematician who came up with that deal, but it’s very confusing,” quipped TCA head coach Bart Jennings. “So we just knew, ‘Hey, if God puts us in this situation to play these guys, we want to play whoever He puts in front of us and do our very best. That’s all we can do.
“I don’t know the talent that Bayfield sees – or even Bennett, for that matter – but we’ve been playing against top 4A teams the whole season,” he continued, alluding to Classical’s inclusion in the 4A/3A Metro North League, “and I’ve always been telling the boys, ‘Just hang in there. Some of this failing, this losing, it’s not representing you well on the scoreboard.’ And when we actually got to play 3A teams, I think the boys saw that, and they began to believe that’s the case.”
Having started relatively late offensively in tripping the Bennett Tigers (12-5), TCA (10-6) wasted no time in breaking out against fourth-seeded Bayfield.
Alex Moore led off against Mazur reaching base via a Ross back-handed bobble at shortstop, and Katayama followed with an RBI-double over Andy Monger in right. Miller then reached on a Carlson error at second, which allowed Katayama to score.
Howard would strike out, but Teller Wilson – the winning pitcher-of-record against Bennett – slapped a single to right. Cameron Brickler lifted a sacrifice fly to right, plating Miller’s courtesy runner Ryan Heiser, and Dunn would drive Wilson in with a single to left before Mazur caught Connor McVay looking at a third strike to end the inning.
With the Wolverines (13-4) able to reach base only by walks issued to Ross in the first inning, Nic Twedt in the second and Ross again in the third, the Titans tightened their grip on the game in the top of the third. Howard led off earning a walk, and took second on a wild Mazur pitch to Wilson. Wilson would strike out, and Brickler popped up to Ross, but Dunn took Mazur over the fence in left.
McVay was then hit by a pitch, and after stealing second, came around when Ross couldn’t throw out Bonaquista at first. Moore would then strike out looking against reliever– and regular No. 2 starter – Jackson Queen, but the damage was done. Queen, however, did his best to buoy BHS by baffling TCA for 4 1/3 sterling, three-hit scoreless frames with breaking balls and off-speed offerings dealt practically to perfection.
“Everybody all year chipped in numerous times. I’m proud of the boys,” said Bayfield coach Bert Miller. “And Jackson pitched the best game he’s pitched and kept us in there. But we just couldn’t battle back.”
Carlson tipped his cap to Queen’s performance and admitted the BHS defense wasn’t able to do enough behind him.
“Bayfield, I give them credit; their starting pitchers are really good. Their curveballs were working on us, so when they mixed it up, we just had to change our approach,” Jennings said. “No longer focus on just trying to hit a curveball, but wait for a fastball to come.”
Vinny Miller would book the win for TCA, working 4 1/3 innings and allowing just two runs (one earned) on three hits, while walking four and fanning six.
“It feels great,” he said. “I knew that I just had to come out and pitch my game. Just throw strikes, let them hit ’em if they want to or strike ’em out if I can. With breaking stuff, you’ve got to make sure to keep it in the strike zone.”
Mazur took the loss on the mound for Bayfield in his 2 2/3 innings of work. He struck out four, walked one and hit two batters. Of the seven runs scored, three were earned.
Carlson ended up 2-for-4 with two runs (the first coming via a fifth-inning, two-out Katayama wild pitch to Caden Wood), and Ross was 1-for-2 with two walks.
Chamblee ended up 1-for-3 with a walk, and Twedt 0-for-1 with two walks.
"(Vinny Miller) threw an awesome game; we couldn’t figure out his off-speed stuff,“ BHS coach Miller said. ”You’ve got to tip your hat to him. And they played stellar defense.”
For TCA, the trip to the final eight of the state tournament is a first in program history.
“They set history today; we’ve never made it this far, ever,” Jennings said. “So that’s another incentive we gave them – that little extra something where they can say, ‘We just did something no one else has at our school.’”
For the Wolverines, it was a tough ending to the season, but a season they were happy to have after 2020 was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is my favorite sport, and last year, you know, that hurt me really bad,” Carlson said. “But we had a great season. It was, honestly, more than I expected we’d have. We did great.”
“I told the boys there’s nothing to hang their heads about,” said coach Miller. “I’m proud of each and every one of them.”
TURNING POINT: The Titans’ big first inning and Dunn’s later bomb were both key to the guests’ success, but the true hearts-in-throats moment came during the Wolverines’ fifth. After Carlson scored and Ross gained third and Chamblee (running for himself) second on the aforementioned wild pitch to Wood, Wood would then walk to load the bases.
Twedt popped foul to Bonaquista, moved over to third base with Katayama replacing Miller on the mound, but Bonaquista couldn’t make the squeeze, giving Twedt new life. Sensing something big might blow up for rally-ready Bayfield, Katayama (2.2 IP, H, R, ER, 3 BB, 4 K) recomposed himself to retire Twedt swinging and quash the uprising.
“That was crazy,” said Vinny Miller. “Bonesy made an ‘error’ or whatever, but Kobe came back, didn’t hang his head.”
“I mean, bad plays happen, it is what it is and no fault on Ty, but that was huge to get that strikeout and get back to hitting – get the momentum back on our side,” Howard said. “That was an absolute morale boost.”