Baseball: Wizards run out of magic against Holy Family in 4A tourney

May 24—AIR FORCE ACADEMY — Windsor baseball may have been the top dog coming into the Class 4A state tournament, but Holy Family had far more bite when it mattered most on the first day of competition.

By the end of their matchup on Friday on Erdle Field, the fifth-seeded Tigers not only took down No. 4 Palisade in a matinee showing, but turned right around to dethrone the No. 1 team in the state with a 9-4 final. Their fall guy got the job done for them.

Prior to the second contest, Holy Family head coach Marc Cowell decided to throw junior pitcher Brendan Ward to the wolves to preserve the arms of his aces. Ward had only pitched 14 2/3 innings all season long. Cowell looked like a genius by the time the last out soared into Holy Family first baseman Jayden Watts' glove.

By the end of Ward's seven sparkling innings on the mound on Friday, he boasted four strikeouts, one walk and just four earned runs through 96 pitches. He only allowed the Wizards to score in the first and fourth frames.

"After that first inning, I started settling in a little bit, gave up those hits, but I always have my defense on my back," Ward said. "I thought Brady (Hudson) was going to pitch, but coach said (it was) me. This is the stuff you dream about, growing up, coming into high school, wanting to win a state championship."

Cowell said that he hoped to throw Windsor off of its game. The Wizards, in turn, just couldn't figure Ward out.

"It was kind of a wild-card situation. We had confidence, but we still didn't know. The way he handled himself was just beautiful today. I'm just so proud of him," Cowell said. "We knew just with the couple of losses that they had, if we didn't keep it off-speed and throw away from them and mix it up, we would have a chance. Ward just was phenomenal. After he settled in after that first inning, he was spectacular. I couldn't ask for more."

His team's offense took care of the rest.

Watts lit Windsor up all game, coming through with three hits and five RBIs, as well as scoring twice himself. He alone accounted for over half of the Tigers' offense in the latter game, just hours after contributing a hit and an RBI in the first one. He just needed to peak at the right time.

"I had a slow start to the season and I knew I was going to have to be a big part in these playoffs," Watts said. "That was just my job, and I trusted my teammates. Being a captain and senior on this team, I know some of these guys look up to me. I just know how to do a job and today I executed it."

The Tigers' ended their sprint past Windsor with 13 hits, in contrast to Windsor's seven. The Wizards never saw more than one hit from any given man, but junior Ethan Fillinger doubled up with two RBIs in the batter's box and three innings of work on the mound, producing three strikeouts while giving up four earned runs.

Everything seemed to go right for Holy Family in the later innings.

Spectators needed to look no further than Isaiah Sandoval's failed sac-bunt-turned-base-hit in the top of the sixth. His efforts allowed junior third baseman Xavier Vega to advance to third and, while no runs materialized that inning, they didn't need to.

Sandoval made up for it in the top of the seventh when, on a hard line drive up the middle, the ball bounced off the foot of Windsor pitcher Wyatt Gustafson to allow junior outfielder Dustin Bennett to waltz across home plate for Holy Family's ninth run of the game.

The Wizards didn't have enough time left to properly respond. Now, they'll head to the consolation bracket to take on the winner of No. 3 Pueblo County and No. 7 Lewis-Palmer on Saturday at noon at UCCS, while Holy Family prepares to go to war with No. 6 Falcon for the 2:30 p.m. game at Air Force.

Friday's two victories helped springboard the Tigers into the second weekend of the state tournament, no matter what happens against the Falcons on Saturday. However, a win will vault them straight into the championship game.

"It gives us all confidence in the world, man," Ward said. "I don't think we need anything more."

In the earlier, 7-3 victory over No. 4 Palisade, the Tigers brushed off a fifth-inning scare from the Bulldogs, who loaded the bases with no outs down 6-1. The Bulldogs only managed to knock in two runs before Holy Family's defense locked in behind senior pitcher Cole Kuszak.