GREELEY – With the infield playing in on the grass, Lucas Stone just needed to get the ball in the right spot. He took a cut at a fastball on the outside corner, pushing it in the direction of University shortstop Coel Croissant. If Croissant had been playing straight up, it would’ve been a routine out.

But this was no routine situation. The winning run was on third base and once the ball got by Croissant’s outstretched glove, the Eaton dugout erupted in joy.

Liam Whalen trotted home, tossed his helmet in the air and let loose and emotional roar as Eaton solidified its 6-5 win over its league rival to claim the Class 3A state baseball championship for the fourth year in a row.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” Whalen said. “I had to get the crowd going.”

The crowd didn’t need help. Whalen’s teammates didn’t need help. Everyone was getting going just fine.

As far as winning state titles go, this played out a little differently than what the Reds are used to. The last time they won state with a margin of one run was in 2001, when it took them 15 innings to beat La Junta. That win sparked a run of four straight state titles so it’s only fitting that this thriller capped a run of four.

For the majority of the seven full innings it took to beat University, it looked like the Bulldogs were going to make the long dog days of summer begin right on June 1.

A 2-run double from Connor Weber in the bottom of the first got University ahead early and the hitters gave Eaton starting pitcher Mitch Haythorn fits through into the third inning. He officially threw just two frames as he allowed two singles and then hit Will Korby to load the bases. Two runs came into score and although it was reliever Gunnar Garrison that was pitching when they scored, both got charged to Haythorn.

University was throwing its very best punch at the three-time defending state champions.

“From the get-go, University was ready to play,” Eaton coach Todd Hernandez said. “They came out and put two runs on and had us on our heels to start the game.”

But Eaton just kept fighting. Whalen scored on a Gunnar Duncan sac fly and then Duncan drove in another run, scoring Stone on a single in the bottom of the sixth.

(Dan Mohrmann/

“It was a tough battle all the way through,” Hernandez said. “But that’s one of the things that these kids have grown up with, that they’re going to come back and win the game.”

Cash Rinker singled in the bottom of the seventh and that’s when Whalen drove the ball into the right-center gap. Hernandez feverishly waved Rinker home and looked up to see Whalen making a mad dash for third base.

“I think I probably would’ve had to go out and tackle him to stop him right there,” Hernandez said.”

With one out and the winning run on second, the infield moved into the grass and that’s when Stone capped his high school baseball career with perhaps the most benign of base hits, but the base hit with the biggest of implications.

“I told Coach Hughes before I went up there that these are moments that you live for,” Stone said. “I give credit to everyone who started that inning before [me]. They got on and let me do my job.”

This is the 15th state title in program history for the Reds, more than any other team in Colorado history. This is also the second time they have claimed four titles in a row, the first stretch coming in 2001-04. Revere is the only other program to win four in a row twice, doing so from 1969-73 and then again from 1976-79.

Cherry Creek and Rocky Mountain are the only other schools to win four consecutive baseball championships. But as pedigree goes, no one is better than Eaton right now and Hernandez will do everything possible to maintain that status for his program.

“Sometimes when people go on Mount Everest, they go just to see people carry dead bodies down the mountain,” he said. “That’s where we know where we’re at. That people just want to see us fall back down the mountain, and we’re going to do the best we can to stay on top.”

(Dan Mohrmann/