Gazette Preps Team To Watch: Peyton baseball readies for 2A state title bid

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Photo - Peyton baseball coach Kelly Nickell, right, watches alongside players as Ellicott players take the field before their game Tuesday, May 2, 2017 in Peyton.  Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Peyton baseball coach Kelly Nickell, right, watches alongside players as Ellicott players take the field before their game Tuesday, May 2, 2017 in Peyton. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

A deep Peyton baseball team is determined to set itself up for a 2A state title run after learning a tough lesson last season.

“We’re approaching every game like it’s a playoff game because we know one loss would drop us in the RPI,” coach Kelly Nickell said. “We went 16-3 last season with three close losses. If we had won one of those we would have gone from the 12th seed to sixth or seventh. We know how important each game is.”

That approach and the emergence of talented sophomores are behind the school’s No. 1 RPI ranking in 2A. RPI is used to determine state playoff seeding.

Peyton sophomore Rodney Gregg followed up a good rookie year with an even-better second season. The pitcher and first baseman is batting .604 with 34 RBIs to lead the Panthers (16-0, 8-0 District 8) while also going 7-0 with 57 strikeouts and only seven walks in 34 innings.

“Rodney is a diehard baseball kid so it was no surprise to us that he has had the kind of season he has had,” Nickell said. “We lost Evan Finley (to graduation) and he came up to me and told me he would step into Evan’s shoes as our No. 1. He has.”

PEYTON BASEBALL
Peyton pitcher Tyler Walker delivers to Ellicott's Osman Rios Tuesday, May 2, 2017 in Peyton. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

The Panthers have five, sometimes six sophomore starters in a game.  Zach Frantz is 4-0 with 32 strikeouts and nine walks in 23 2/3 innings while senior Tyler Walker is 3-0 – giving Peyton three quality pitchers while most 2A teams have one.

“Zach has emerged as our No. 2 while very little gets by Jaeden (Meyers) at second base,” Nickell said.  Other sophomore starters include shortstop Rupert Shaw, center fielder Josh Gonzales and left fielder A.J. Strobel, who is playing with sore ribs.

Senior designated hitter Zach Keifer (23 RBIs, 10 doubles), a transfer from Sierra, bats in Strobel’s place while senior catcher Garhett Shaw (team-high 14 stolen bases) is the team’s leader, Nickell added. Senior right fielder Caleb Yutzky also starts while senior Tyler Redmond (shoulder) may return before district playoffs next week.

The depth is evident at the plate where the team bats .465 with nine recording at least 10 RBIs. A doubleheader sweep of Front Range Christian, now 13th in the RPI, on April 8 exemplified that.

“You can count on most (2A) teams having a solid Nos. 1-4 but usually below that there is a drop-off,” Nickell said. “But against Front Range Christian (11-4), it was the bottom of our order that came through. Pitching is always key -- which is why we have everyone practice pitching and eight have thrown at least one inning -- but everyone has been contributing at the plate too.”

District play begins next week with pigtail games Tuesday followed by the tournament semifinals and championship next Saturday at Spurgeon Field in Colorado Springs.