Senior AJ Jacobs was primed for the situation and delivered the game-winning hit May 25 at All-City Stadium as ThunderRidge captured the Class 5A state baseball championship with a 2-1 victory over Rocky Mountain.
ThunderRidge, 21-5, was unbeaten in the double-elimination portion of the tournament.
The Grizzlies ousted defending champion Cherry Creek, 5-1, behind the 6-hit pitching of Bradley Thoutt on May 24, and then scored two runs in the top of the seventh to defeat once-beaten Rocky Mountain in what turned out to be the title game.
Jake Hand, who was 15-for-23 with nine RBI in seven state playoff games, led off the seventh with a single, moved to second on a wild pitch, went to third on Connor Lambert ground ball out and scored the tying run on an infield hit by Andrew Jones.
Tyler Loptien followed with a single, moving courtesy runner Mark Hopper to third. Then Jacobs, the valedictorian at ThunderRidge’s graduation May 24, slapped a single to rightfield. Hopper scored to give the Grizzlies the lead and the state title.
“I had two strikes on me,” Jacobs said. “I just wanted to get a pitch and go the other way. I hit it hard and as soon as I saw it was through, I knew Mark was going to score.
“I told myself it has to happen now. I was a little nervous but I was a little more nervous talking in front of everyone at graduation. That went great. Everyone loved my speech and that prepared me for this game. I was ready for the big time. This is the best feeling in the world.”
Jones pitched six inning of 3-hit baseball, striking out seven Lobo batters. The only run the Grizzly starting pitcher allowed came in the first inning when Spencer Ibarra doubled to lead off the game and eventually scored on a balk.
Loptien picked up the save in the seventh inning. The Lobo leadoff hitter reached base on an error but Loptien worked from behind in the count and struck out the next two batters and induced a ground ball out to end the game.
The championship was the second for ThunderRidge who won the state championship in 2004.
“To beat legendary teams and coaches like Grandview, Cherry Creek and Rocky Mountain, I can’t say enough about our kids,” said ThunderRidge coach Joe White. “They are a very unselfish group of kids. Like I said, character wins.”