UNITED STATES AIR FORCE ACADEMY – Baseball coaches, no matter the level, are easily criticized if they hit the wrong buttons.

But man, when they hit the right one, they look like a genius.

Holy Family coach Marc Cowell took a chance in the second game on Friday afternoon at the Air Force Academy’s Erdle Field against top-seeded Windsor – a team that had already beat the Tigers twice this season. He turned to seldom used junior Brendan Ward against the Wizards, and the junior delivered a gem.

Ward pitched a complete game, giving up seven hits while striking out four and walking just one in a 9-4 victory for Holy Family. The Tigers automatically advance to next weekend’s final four and will play Falcon tomorrow back at the Air Force Academy to earn a berth in the title game.

“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,” Cowell said. “Ward just was phenomenal. After he settled in after that first inning, he was spectacular. I couldn’t ask for more.”

Said Ward, who had throw a total of 14.2 innings all season: “After that first inning, I started settling in a little bit, gave up those hits, but I always have my defense on my back. I thought Brady (Hudson) was going to pitch, but coach said me. This is stuff you dream about, growing up, coming into high school, wanting to win a state championship.”

It couldn’t have lined up better for Cowell and the fifth-seeded Tigers, who can now send out ace Brady Hudson against the Falcons on Saturday afternoon. Falcon scored two mild upsets of their own at UCCS, knocking of No. 3 Pueblo County in the first game and then beat No. 2 Golden 7-2 in the second game.

It was a shaky start for Ward. A leadoff single by Tripp Thomas was followed by a Teegan Cole single, then with runners on first and second, Ethan Fillinger ripped a double to the center field fence that scored two and it looked like the Wizards might have their way with Ward,

But he settled in, got the next three outs on just nine pitches and went to the dugout with all the momentum in the world.

“It was kind of a wildcard situation. We had confidence, but we still didn’t know,” said Cowell, who has coached the Tigers to two state title during his three stints as Holy Family coach. “The way he handled himself was just beautiful today. I’m just so proud of him.”

The Tigers offense did the rest.

Jayden Watts and Xavier Vega each had run scoring hits in the top of the second and then with two outs in the top of the third Watts delivered again. He singled to right field and scored both Britain Fox and Logan Seifarth.

Windsor tied the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the fourth on back-to-back RBI groundouts from Mason Jordan and Dax Vela, but that would be the last of the offense the Wizards could muster off of Ward, who just got stronger as the game went along.

The Tigers took the lead for good in the fifth inning, and it was Watts again. With two runners on via walk, the lanky southpaw sent a ball down the right field line that scored both Rylan Cooney and Cole Kuszak – the Game 1 winner against Palisade.

“It gives us all confidence in the world,” Ward said. “I don’t think we need anything more.”

In a contentious game between the two Northern Colorado Athletic Conference foes, Holy Family added two insurance runs in the top of the seventh and Cowell sent Ward out to close it out. He induced three straight ground balls in the bottom half to end it before he was mobbed by a Tigers dugout that knew exactly what they had just witnessed.

(Jon Yunt)