Air Academy pitches way back to 4A state tournament

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Air Academy got two outstanding performances from its starters, great production from its hitters and solid defense.

It was the perfect mix of baseball needed from a team with hopes of capturing a state title.

After shutting out Rifle in the morning, the host Kadets defeated rival Cheyenne Mountain 7-2 in the 4A Region 4 final Saturday to return to the state championship tournament for the second consecutive year.

“It’s amazing,” starting pitcher Micah Bregard said. “Great, great feeling. Top eight out of 67 isn’t bad.”

Bregard went six-plus innings for Air Academy (17-4), holding the Indians (15-6) to two runs on four hits. He struck out seven batters.

“My fastball was jumping out of my hand,” Bregard said. “They had a tough time catching up to it.”

Earlier in the day, starter James Verlinde threw a two-hit, complete-game shutout in the 4-0 win. That one-two punch of Verlinde and Bregard make the Kadets a threat for next week’s state tournament.

“It’s always awesome when your best two pitchers come out and throw the way they threw and go as deep into the game as they did,” coach Doug Goldberg said. “… It sets the tone for our team and it calms the guys down in the dugout.”

The Kadets’ batters did plenty to back their pitchers. After the Indians grabbed a 2-1 lead in the top of the third, Air Academy answered in the bottom half.

Sam Cregan had his first career two-home run game, hitting a two-run shot to left-center to put the Kadets ahead for good in the third, 3-2.

“Sam really just keeps getting better and better all year,” Goldberg said. “He gets hotter, he gets better, he hits the ball harder.”

The Kadets added an insurance run when Bregard laid down a perfect suicide squeeze, Nick Chiacchia scoring standing up and Bregard diving safely to first base for a 4-2 lead.

“As soon as I put it down, I saw the second baseman wasn’t there,” Bregard said. “Busted my butt and dove head first and got there. It’s huge. You don’t expect to get a hit off a squeeze.”

Cregan also hit a solo shot to left field in the sixth.

“I can speak for the team and say most of our lineup feels great when they go up to the plate,” Cregan said. “They know they can put the ball in play and put the ball in play hard, too.”

The Indians chased Bregard when he walked the first two batters in the seventh. But Cregan struck out Jack Denker, catcher Justin Richardson picked off Chase McCleary at third on a fake double steal and Cregan got Matthew Smith to ground out to second to end the game.

Cheyenne Mountain defeated Pueblo County to get to the region final, just the Indians’ third win in their past nine after winning their first 12 games. Since, they went 3-6, making Saturday’s loss bittersweet.

“It was two different seasons,” Cheyenne Mountain coach Mark Swope said.

“… I liked the way our guys battled. They didn’t give up.”