Last season, Tristan Copeland was catching games as a freshman for the Hope Christian junior varsity without the slightest notion that he would be on the mound to spearhead the Huskies to victory in their biggest game of this 2018 season.
What a difference a year makes.
Copeland pitched four strong innings, combining with relievers Joey Palamara and Aidan McNichol to help the No. 1 Huskies (25-6) beat sixth-seeded Bernalillo 3-0 in the Class 4A championship game at Isotopes Park on Saturday.
“I pitched a couple games, but none of them very good,” Copeland said of his freshman season. “At the beginning of this year we thought I was just gonna be a pitcher to try to develop. I ended up throwing the best I’ve ever thrown before.”
After battling through a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the first inning, Copeland retired nine Spartans in a row before giving way to Palamara in the fifth.
Copeland’s accelerated development was not only a surprise to himself, but also to his dad, Huskies coach Glen Copeland.
“I really didn’t want to shove him into that role too early. … But his arm’s always been good, and his stuff’s always been good,” Glen Copeland said. “The way things worked out, we gave him opportunities, short bursts … and he always came through.
“It ain’t always the prettiest thing – it’s kind of a high-wire act – but man, I’m so proud of the way he endured and faced the adversity, and threw four great innings for us.”
After scoring a whopping 74 runs through its first four tournament wins, Hope truly needed a stellar effort from its pitching staff and defense to get past Bernalillo (21-10). The Huskies’ only scoring – a three-run second inning – didn’t come through the most conventional means.
Bernalillo starter Isaiah Chavez began the inning by walking the first three batters. After getting a force-out at the plate, Chavez committed a balk, allowing Noah Chavez to come home. Moments later, Braden Rue scored on a wild pitch. Coy Karler provided the only hit of the inning, driving home Nikko Ruiz with a bloop single to give the Huskies a 3-0 lead that stuck.
“We lost the zone for a little bit, and baseball’s one of those games,” Bernalillo coach Brandon Gilliard said. “Isaiah, other than that (inning), he threw a hell of a game. I can’t be upset with what he did. To win a ballgame, you’ve got to put up runs. Unfortunately all the balls we hit were right at them.”
Indeed, Chavez was masterful the rest of the way, allowing just three hits over seven innings. But Bernalillo had only two more viable scoring opportunities after Tristan Copeland’s rocky opening frame.
Palamara walked two batters and hit another to load the bases with two outs in the bottom of the sixth but forced a ground out from Daniel Otero to end that threat. Palamara then surrendered a double to left-center by Bernalillo’s Eric Beyale with one out in the bottom of the seventh before being relieved by McNichol. The Hope senior retired the final two batters to give the Huskies their first blue trophy since 2013.
“All of our pitchers threw great,” Glen Copeland said. “To hang up a zero on that team, I can’t be any prouder of Tristan or Joey or Aidan.”
Bernalillo, meanwhile, came up just short in its bid to end a 62-year championship drought.
“I told these guys they could be in this game at the beginning of the season if they fought and played smart baseball. We fought harder than I’ve seen them fight in a long time,” Gilliard said.