Peyton baseball coach Kelly Nickell knew the Panthers were going to have a good season. But he didn't expect the kind of year that they had.
Nickell led Peyton to a 21-2 record, including a perfect league record. Not only did the Panthers finish with a two-loss season, but Nickell also had his team in the final eight in the 2A baseball tournament for the first time since 1992.
"It was special," said Nickell, The Gazette Preps' 2017 high school baseball coach of the year. "I have been doing this a long time, we've had a lot of success but we haven't been able to get over that hump. So to get past the round of the 16 to get to the elite eight, it meant a lot."
While Peyton's success helped Nickell earn the honor, he believes the players deserve the credit.
According to Nickell, the Panthers had 31 kids out for the team. With that amount, it translated to Peyton having one of the deepest pitching staffs in Colorado. Nickell also raved about how well the Panthers' defense was and how well they hit the ball.
"We were just a well-rounded team this year," Nickell said.
Although Peyton experienced its best season in over 25 years, it still suffered some heartbreak.
The Panthers had aspirations of winning a state title. But that dream vanished after a rough fourth inning against Lyons in the second round of the state tournament.
"Extremely tough," Nickell said of the loss. "We played great all year, especially pitching and defensively. We just had a crazy inning. We thought we got a bad call from the umpire and we had a line drive go off our pitcher's leg and then infielders made three errors, which I don't know how many games we had three errors in the whole game and we made three in one inning."
Despite the loss, he was proud of what the Panthers accomplished. Nickell expects Peyton to continue this type of success for years to come.
The Panthers graduated five seniors.
However, Nickell and his coaching staff played six sophomores a lot this year. And, according to Nickell, there are five to seven good incoming freshman, eighth-grade and seventh-grade classes.
"The sky's the limit," Nickell said. "(Peyton) should be very good the next six years."