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Swing for the fences

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By Brian Forbes

Curtis Cunningham deserves a humanitarian award.

As the crowd at Columbine High School struggled to stay warm March 14, the senior slugger did what he had to do to send everyone home. He crushed the first pitch he saw.

And everyone ran to their cars to turn on the heat.

Cunningham’s massive two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth inning scraped the gray clouds and sealed Columbine’s 13-3 Class 5A nonleague victory over Mountain Vista.

“I was actually trying to get on base so somebody else could hit me in,” said Cunningham, who was walked in his three previous plate appearances. “I just hit it hard.”

The Rebels (2-1) did that all afternoon as they rebounded from a 5-4 loss to Heritage on March 11 by belting five home runs for a total of 11 runs. Catcher Steve Autienrieth hit a grand slam in the bottom of the third and designated hitter Danny Spond connected on a three-run shot in the decisive fifth.

“We took 13 first-pitch fastballs,” Rebels skipper Chuck Gillman said of the loss to Heritage. “We made that our emphasis in practice. So we threw the pitching machine on at 100 miles per hour, come out here and said, ‘Shoot, let ‘em hit.’”

And hit they did.

Mike Tanner followed up Autienrieth’s slam with a solo shot and third baseman Morgan Blatnik went yard with a solo shot in the fourth inning. Kyler Brady, Blatnik and Tanner each finished with two hits in a replay of 2006 state championship game won by Columbine.

“We played them in state a couple years ago. They’re a real solid team,” said Tanner, who doubled to right field in the fifth and scored a game-high three runs. “Coming out here and doing that to them, especially on a windy day up here, it feels good to do that early in the season.”

Brady gave up four hits over five innings for the victory. The right-hander had good movement pitching into the wind, scattering four hits and five strikeouts against two walks.

Brady’s only mistake was giving up a solo home run to Golden Eagles cleanup hitter Eric Anderson in the top of the fourth.

Mountain Vista (0-1) had both of its pitchers roughed up. Starter Kevin Lupton surrendered seven runs on six hits over three innings, and reliever Adam Hill was touched up for six runs on four hits.

Columbine scored two runs in the second inning before jumping ahead 7-0 in the third thanks to its catcher.

Blatnik and right fielder Cody Hagan singled on either side of Cunningham’s walk to load the bases for Autienrieth. Autienrieth wasted little time getting his pitch and pushing the ball over the fence to the right of center field.

The Rebels were up 8-2 entering the bottom of the fifth and got a leadoff double from Tanner and a single by Brady before Spond went deep to right field.

Shortstop Jeff Cicchinelli got on before Cunningham stepped into the box with two outs. The hulking first baseman kissed the first pitch good-bye for the walk-off trot.

“It all comes back to how hard we work in practice,” Cunningham said. “We worked pretty hard this week sitting on fastballs.”

Mountain Vista 000 12 3 4 0

Columbine 025 15 13 10 3

Columbine: Cicchinelli ss 3-1-0-0, Blatnik 3b 4-2-2-1, Cunningham 1b 1-2-1-2, Hagan rf 3-1-1-0, Autienrieth c 3-1-1-4, Tanner lf 2-3-2-1, Brady p 3-0-2-0, Waldman cr 0-1-0-0, Roberts cf 0-0-0-0, Spond dh 3-2-1-3, Weibel 2b 3-0-1-1. Totals 25-13-11-12.

E – Blatnik, Cicchinelli, Brady. LOB – Mountain Vista 5, Columbine 3. SB – Tanner, Spond. 2B – Tanner. HR – Autienrieth, Tanner, Anderson, Blatnik, Spond, Cunningham.

Batteries – Lupton, Hill (4) and Caggiano; Brady and Autienrieth. W – Brady. L – Lupton. HBP – Ottoson (by Brady in third); Cicchinelli (by Hill in fifth). WP – Brady 2. Balk – Brady.