In an extra-inning game that featured four lead changes, six home runs and three double plays, one thing became perfectly clear - the Cheyenne Mountain and Palmer Ridge baseball teams will battle until the very end for the 4A/5A PPAC crown.
Cheyenne Mountain fought back three times before forcing extra innings, but Palmer Ridge -- which needs to sweep the Indians in the final series to clinch the PPAC -- scored five runs in the top of the eighth inning for a 14-9 win to inch one step closer to its regular-season goal of winning the conference.
Thursday’s clash at Palmer Ridge will be a winner-take-all, regular-season finale for the PPAC.
Cheyenne Mountain coach Mark Swope, whose team led by as many as three runs late in the game, felt that no lead was safe in Tuesday’s thriller.
In the first of many lead changes, Cheyenne Mountain eliminated a two-run deficit and took a one-run lead in the fourth, scoring all three runs off passed balls.
“It wasn’t a super clean game by any means, and in the fourth inning their pitcher (Charlie Deeds) was throwing really well, but things kind of came unraveled a little bit, and it gave us a spark,” Swope said. “We didn’t have a lot to cheer about up until that point, and it got even crazier from that point on.”
Aaron Berkhoff hit a solo home run to lead off the sixth, followed by an error and an RBI double by Cam Buckler that gave Cheyenne Mountain a three-run cushion heading into the final inning. But Swope was still uncomfortable.
Rightfully so, as Palmer Ridge has a solid batting order, hitting .366 as a team so far this year.
“You always have your doubts, but they didn’t give up and they fought together and we hit the ball really well together today,” Palmer Ridge coach Jason Heidel said. “We kept fighting and that’s what I love about this team, they stick together and don’t give up.”
Gabe Halaby and Ben Kleinsmith each hit two-run home runs in the top of the seventh inning to eliminate the three-run deficit and give the Bears a one-run lead. But Berkhoff wasn’t going down silently in the seventh.
Berkhoff, who hit 3 for 4 with a home run and a double, hit the game-tying RBI single in the bottom of the seventh to eventually force extras.
After Palmer Ridge surrendered its first lead, it didn’t take long for the Bears to get back on top, thanks in part to No. 9 hitter JC Watne.
He hit a solo home run in the top of the fifth to tie the game, and the floodgates opened. Leadoff hitter Charlie Deeds smacked a triple to right, followed by a two-run home run by Jake Wade to swing the momentum yet again.
“Nothing really scares us. I’m so confident in my team to go out there and get something in the air,” Watne said. “There were so many clutch moments for us today and we were ruthless out there.”
Watne also earned the win on the mound, pitching the final two innings and striking out the last two batters of the eighth inning to clinch the win.
“JC is Mr. Accurate. He can spot his balls and his pitches very well and that’s what makes him so good,” Heidel said.
Palmer Ridge hit five total home runs, including a solo homer by Bridger Havens in the top of the first to give the Bears an early lead. Havens and Watne also assisted in Palmer Ridge’s three double plays of the game.
Deeds pitched five full innings and struck out four, while Cheyenne Mountain started Michael Ellis threw five innings and fanned two. AJ Carpenter hit 2 for 4 with an RBI and scored twice for the Indians. Jack Denker had two hits and scored for Cheyenne Mountain.