LAKEWOOD – Hunter Smith knew he would find himself on the mound for Valor Christian’s Class 5A baseball state championship game against Cherokee Trail.

He just thought he would be the one closing it out.

That turned out to be the only thing he didn’t do. With Ben Leikam unavailable, Smith was given the ball and task of slowing down a Cougars team that had beaten No. 1 Broomfield and rallied past Rock Canyon. He did more than slow them down. He shut them out.

He threw 6 2/3 innings, giving up just three hits and not allowing a run as Valor beat Cherokee Trail 4-0 to claim its first state championship since moving up to 5A.

“That’s above and beyond anything I could have wanted from a coaching standpoint for a kid,” Valor coach Travis Cruz said. “For him to come out and do what he did after being called up in that way, just go out there and do what he does, has been fun to watch.”

The Cougars reached the 5A game after rallying to beat Rock Canyon in eight innings on Friday and needed to beat Valor twice to capture the third state title in program history.

But Smith wasn’t going to allow it. He beat everyone, including the incoming rain storm that has caused issues at other tournaments throughout the state. The Eagles worked through all seven innings in just over 90 minutes.

“It was really exciting,” Smith said. “I was nervous at first I just come out and do my thing every single time. I have great teammates like Ben Leikam who calm my nerves every single time.”

(Dan Mohrmann/

And other teammates like Steven Lukasiewicz who get him a lead to work with. Lukasiewicz reached on a double in the second inning and scored on an RBI single from Parker Feagans to put the Eagles up 1-0. He reached on a single in the fourth and scored on an Athan Kroll RBI single four hitters later. He went 3-for-3 on the day.

The Eagles scored all four of their runs in the first four innings and it was more than enough with the way Smith was mowing through the Cherokee Trail hitters. He had retired 10 straight hitters going into the seventh inning and got Brody Ceyrolles to fly out and Zach Garcia to ground out. Johnny Robledo reached on a base hit up the middle and Smith had reached the pitch count limit.

Zach Eigenbrod took over with two outs in the inning and struck out Colton Gray to end the game.

“It was crucial knowing that the bats had to come alive fast and that we had to back him up,” Lukasiewicz said. “But props to him for throwing a shutout against that team in the state finals and giving us that leniency to score four runs, get a good lead and play relaxed.”

And play for each other. That’s the mindset this team has been utilizing all season. They entered the postseason as the No. 15 seed and worked their way through regionals to get into the state tournament. They didn’t lose a game between the two weekends.

“It’s all about the boys and it’s all about living in the moment,” Cruz said. “I came at them with a deal and said here are all the pathways. Here are the different ways to get here. But at the end of the day, even if you don’t get there you’re still a champion because of what we have accomplished on this field together.”

This is the fourth state baseball title for the Eagles and the first since they rattled off three straight 4A titles from 2016-18.

(Dan Mohrmann/