LAKEWOOD — It's fitting that Erie's season came down to the very final out.
In a campaign that saw them fight and claw their way to the Class 4A final four for the first time in school history, the Tigers tried to rally from a five run deficit to start the seventh inning. But, after Erie loaded the bases and pushed across a couple of runs, Valor Christian was able to hang on for a 6-3 victory, knocking the Tigers out of the double-elimination tournament Saturday morning at All-Star Park in Lakewood.
"I thought, pretty much, that was us," Erie coach Harold Simmons said about his team's effort in the semifinals. "The way that seventh inning ended, just battling our butts off. All the way to the end."
And the Tigers (16-9) did put a big time scare into the Eagles (21-4), who will play Pueblo South Sunday morning in the championship series. Trailing 6-1 heading into the seventh, No. 8 hitter Hunter Nelson hit a hard shot that Valor's first baseman couldn't handle to get on base. Nyk Crumrine, who came on in relief to start the frame, then walked Ruben Portillo and, after getting a flyout to center, hit Zach Elliston with a pitch to load the bases.
Crumrine then hit Clint Allen with another pitch to drive in a run and cut the deficit to 6-2.
Nic Gavit followed with a hard hit ball to third that drove in another run but also resulted in the second out of the inning. That brought the tying run to the plate in the form of No. 5 hitter Luke Conilogue.
A 6-foot-5 senior who will play linebacker for Colorado State University-Pueblo next fall, Conilogue hit a screamer right up the middle that somehow Crumrine was able to snag to end the game.
Conilogue hit the ball so hard, it made a thunderous crack that reverberated throughout All-Star Park, and probably would have hit the wall in center if Crumrine, who was knocked to the ground when he caught it, hadn't got his glove up in time to stop it.
"That was one of the harder balls I hit, for sure," said Conilogue, who hit a double in the fourth inning for one of the Tigers' three hits. "I thought it was probably going to get through."
Simmons told his team afterward that, if the ball had been elevated even a little bit, it would have went out of the park.
"That's a rocket that Luke hit. I wasn't worried about it going through, I was more worried about if it hit (Crumrine) in the face," Simmons said. "My first concern was for the kid. That was a heck of a play and thank goodness he made it, to be honest, otherwise it might have got him."
And Erie might have gotten Valor, if it wasn't for that play, and one half-inning that got away from the Tigers and led to five runs for the Eagles.
With the game tied 1-1 heading into the bottom of the fourth, the first six batters reached safely for Valor. The bottom of the order did the most damage with No. 8 hitter Luke Bozarth hitting a two-run double and nine-hole hitter Erik Ohman following that with a two-run triple.
Other than that inning, Erie starter Portillo did a great job on the mound against the Eagles, who came in averaging more than eight runs per game. That was the only inning where Portillo allowed more than a single hit, allowing only six in the contest, striking out three while walking four.
"We had the one inning where it got a little bit away from us and we worked our butts off to get back in it, but just couldn't get it done," Simmons said.
A lot of that had to do with Valor starter Luke Ziegler, who was strong in six innings of work. He only allowed three hits, striking out five and walking five to get the win.
Despite the loss, Simmons said this group holds a special place, especially this group of seniors, many of whom he has known since they were in middle school.
"A lot of these guys had older brothers (who came through the program) and have been around since the sixth grade," Simmons said. "They have really bought into our program, and it's important to them. Not just for themselves, but for the entire program.
"They weren't willing to just let it go, even in a game like this where we could have laid down."
Conilogue said that the teams effort against Valor encapsulated what Erie was all about this season.
"That's what kind of team we are," Conilogue said. "We're not the most talented team, but we're one of the toughest teams and we just fought through every game this year."
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Valor Christian 6, Erie 3
At All-Star Park
Erie (16-9) 100 000 2 — 3 3 1
Valor Christian (21-4) 100 500 x — 6 6 2
W — Ziegler. L — Portillo.
Erie hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Crites 3-1-0-0, Elliston 3-0-0-0, Allen 2-0-1-1, Gavit 3-0-0-1, Conilogue 3-0-1-0, Sorenson 3-0-0-0, Villa 3-0-0-0, Nelson 2-0-0-0, Deckert 0-1-0-0, Portillo 2-0-1-0, Mirabassi 0-1-0-0. 2B —Conilogue, Allen. SB —Crites 2, Conilogue, Allen, Mirabassi.
Valor Christian hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Pierce 2-1-2-1, Favaro 0-0-0-0, Kuzma 2-0-0-0, Donels 3-0-0-0, Ziegler 3-0-1-1, Barber 0-0-0-0, Boulaphinh 3-1-1-0, Rooney 2-1-0-0, Walters 1-1-0-0, Bozarth 3-1-1-2, Ohman 3-1-1-2. 2B — Bozarth. 3B —Ohman. SB —Pierce, Rooney.
Erie pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Portillo 6-6-6-5-4-3.
Valor Christian pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Ziegler 6-3-1-0-5-5, Crumrine 1-0-2-0-1-0.