Air Academy baseball players like to say the team is a loose bunch.
The Kadets showed that Tuesday with consecutive wins over Golden and Silver Creek in two games of loser-goes-home.
Air Academy now heads to the final weekend of the 4A state baseball tournament (and the final weekend of the 2016-17 Colorado high school sports season) with a chance to claim a state championship – if they continue to play loose and not lose.
Knowing that either of Tuesday’s games could have been their final one helped propel the Kadets.
“I think having that factor of possibly being the last game we play together as a team in high school lit a huge fire under our butts and gave us motivation to come out and win two games today,” senior Sam Cregan said on Tuesday.
The No. 5 Kadets (19-5) play No. 3 Valor Christian (19-5) on Friday at 12:30 p.m. at Metro State in Denver. The winner stays alive in the hunt for the state championship, the loser heads home. Originally the Kadets were scheduled to play Thompson Valley, but that was switched according to tournament regulations.
In the other game, No. 16 Thompson Valley (17-7, winners of District 1) plays No. 28 Evergreen (16-8, winners of District 4). Evergreen is the only unbeaten team in the tournament and has beaten all three of the remaining semifinalists in the double-elimination tournament. If Evergreen falls to TV, the Cougars would still be alive.
When Air Academy opened the tournament with a 1-0 loss to Evergreen, the players and coaches reacted as though it were a missed opportunity. They were disappointed in their efforts at the plate and were hoping to get another chance against the Cougars.
That will have to wait. First, they’ll have to get past Valor, the defending state champions. The Eagles, ranked third in this season’s RPI, are the Jeffco League champions.
Before falling to Evergreen, a team the Eagles beat 8-2 in the regular season, Valor hadn’t lost since April 24 to Littleton.
Air Academy’s loss to Evergreen was the first for the Pikes Peak Athletic Conference champions since April 20.
Winning eight straight and 19 overall is a big reason why the Kadets have so much confidence.
Having two ace pitchers plus at least one more reliable starter is another reason the Kadets can be loose. The Kadets are likely to start James Verlinde (5-4, 1.96 ERA) on Friday and Micah Bregard (6-1, 2.04) on Saturday should they get that far. Cregan (3-0, 1.22) should also be available Saturday.
“Even in practice, it’s just kind of hanging out with the guys having fun,” Kyle Chasse said about his team’s relaxed attitude. “I think we definitely came out and did that today. There was nothing we did that wasn’t how we’ve been playing all year.”