It wasn't a grand slam, but Michael Lyon's bunt in the fifth inning of Monday night's district championship game against Eagle Valley turned out to be almost as powerful.
The suicide squeeze with runners at second and third, two outs and two strikes turned out to be the play of the day in a game Steamboat went on to win 11-2.
"At first, I thought my coach didn't know what the count was," Lyon said. "If I bunted it foul, I was out; if I didn't get to first, the inning was over; and if I didn't get the ball down, the runner at third was going to be out."
Third-base coach Rick Grant did know the count. He was banking that Lyon, the best bunter on the team, could get the job done. If the risk paid off, it would crush the spirits of the hometown Eagle Valley team, which was hanging by a thread late in the District 5 Little League Championship game.
"It was a huge gamble," coach Doug Wood said. "But it worked, and it changed the entire mood of the game."
Standing at the plate, a confused Lyon didn't know what was going through his coach's head, but when he saw the runner coming from third, he knew he had not misunderstood the signs.
He placed a bunt down the third baseline and then beat the throw to first base.
"It was my best bunt ever," Lyon said.
Because the Steamboat runners were moving, the play resulted in two easy runs and put the Eagle team in a 6-2 hole.
Wood said the impact of the play was immediately apparent on the faces of the Eagle Valley players, who never recovered.
Timely offense, some outstanding defensive work by centerfielder Jeff Truslow and sharp pitching by Alexander Wood helped Steamboat's 14-and--under team cruise to its third straight win and capture the district title. Steamboat will have two weeks to prepare before heading to the Little League Association's state finals, which will be played in Aurora.
The Steamboat team's run for the district title began Saturday against Grand County. Alexander Wood collected nine strikeouts in five innings of work as the Steamboat team opened the double-elimination tournament with a 19-2 win.
The next day, Steamboat faced off against Eagle Valley in Eagle for the first of two meetings in the tournament. Jordan Williams of Hayden helped Steamboat take a 9-5 win in that game.
Steamboat was undefeated headed into Monday night's championship game. Eagle Valley had rebounded in the loser's bracket to get another shot at Steamboat. Eagle Valley would have needed to beat Steamboat twice to take the district title. Four teams played in the tournament: Steamboat, Eagle Valley, Grand County and Rocky Mountain.
Coach Wood said the Steamboat team's success this year was surprising but not totally unexpected. Six of the players began practicing last spring inside a gym at Colorado Mountain College to prepare for the Triple Crown tournaments this summer. When the Little League team was selected three weeks ago, all of those boys were named to the 11-player squad.
The team had four practices before the district championships began Saturday. Several of the players on the team had been members of a 12-and-under team that advanced to Little League's State Championship tournament two years ago.
"If we play our best baseball we can be competitive with anyone in the state," pitcher Alexander Wood said. "We just can't make errors and with good pitching and good hitting I think we can win."
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