PUEBLO — Winning back-to-back high school state championships is no easy feat.
The Paonia High School baseball players put together a great team effort on Saturday afternoon to capture their second Class 2A state baseball title in a row.
The Eagles outlasted No. 1-seed Peyton 8-6 in the finals at the Runyon Sports Complex to claim state glory again.
"We have each other's backs," said senior pitcher Anders Schopp. "We have a player for every position and players who can play multiple positions. I'm in shock that we won state again. I don't really know how to explain the feeling. This is just incredible."
The Eagles (23-2) capped the season with an 11-game winning streak. This was Paonia's eighth state baseball title in school history.
In addition to the past two years, the Eagles also won state baseball championships in 1962, 1989, 1996-98 and 2003.
Peyton, which was trying to win its first state baseball championship, saw its 18-game winning streak snapped.
Schopp was crucial in the Eagles' win over Peyton (22-2). He came in relief of starting pitcher Soul Connolly with no outs in the third and fired 4 2/3 innings, striking out six, allowing five hits and walking four.
Paonia entered Saturday without the services of its top pitcher KJ Seriani. The senior right-hander, who is headed to Division I Grand Canyon University next year, hurt his pitching arm after only two outs in the regional final a week ago against Limon.
"I was told multiple times by my coaches to be ready to pitch," Schopp said. "That's how it has been all year. I'm more of a relief pitcher. I had a good feeling I was going to be coming in at some point and I knew I would have to come through and I'm glad I did."
Peyton finally got to Schopp in the bottom of the seventh, cutting the deficit to 8-6 on a two-run single by Rodney Gregg. That left the Panthers with runners on second and third with two outs.
That's when Paonia coach Nate Miller brought in his son, senior Jaden Miller, to close the door.
"I just knew that kid (Josh Gonzales) was struggling a little bit at the plate all day, I knew I was going to throw him my off-speed stuff and keep him off balance," Jaden Miller said. "Anders was pitching really good and when I came in from being the catcher to pitching, I knew exactly where the strike zone was, and I was able to get him on three straight curveballs."
Schopp and Jaden Miller were forces offensively against the Panthers, also.
Schopp was 3 for 4 with an RBI and Miller was 2 for 4, including a two-run home run over the left-field fence in the top of the first inning.
In the Eagles' first game of the day, Miller threw a complete-game four hitter, struck out two and only walked one during the Eagles' 7-2 semifinal victory over Dayspring Christian.
"It is a lot different from winning it last year to this year because this was my senior year, and this was my last game," the 6-foot-1 Miller said. "My dad has been coaching me for 14 years now. We've been doing this for a while, and it was just a great way to end things."
Nate Miller acknowledged there was plenty of stress with one out remaining.
"I don't have any shoes left because I wore them out pacing the dugout," the coach said. "He throws a lot of off-speed stuff and I knew they had their No. 7 batter coming up (Josh Gonzales) and I thought Jaden would be the best option.
"This is special," he continued. "It has been hard on me all year because I knew it was coming to an end coaching my son and it was just great to get this win."
The Eagles stretched their lead to 3-0 in the top of the third on a single by Schopp.
Connolly, Paonia's starting pitcher, couldn't get out of the bottom or third inning, and the Eagles brought Schopp to pitch with the bases loaded.
Schopp got Brennen Meyers to ground into an inning-ending double play.
In the top of the fourth, Paonia scored three runs on three hits and took advantage of one error to extend its lead to 6-2. After Grey Neal's sacrifice fly in the sixth, the Eagles had a comfortable 8-2 edge, then held off a Peyton rally attempt to seal the victory.
Paonia's lineup helped the Eagles advance to the finals by muscling past Dayspring Christian.
The offensive hero for the Eagles was Seriani, who finished 2 for 3 with three RBI, including a solo home run to left-center field.
In the other semifinal game, Peyton won in dramatic fashion when Rupert Shaw had a one-out RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the Panthers the 4-3 victory over Hotchkiss.
Shaw's hit brought home Meyers, who reached base on a walk.
Hotchkiss pitcher Eli Kirk took the loss in relief. Jonathan Gonzales and Chase Hiatt had two hits apiece for Hotchkiss.