Dylan Carey had already clobbered two homers against Thomas Jefferson in the regional title game when he stepped to the plate again, and someone from the Ponderosa dugout shouted what the Spartans were no doubt thinking.
“Not this guy!!”
Carey proceeded to hit another blast to cement the mercy-rule victory, securing his first career three-homer game and sending defending champion Ponderosa back into the Class 4A state tournament. There, the Mustangs continued to roll, winning three games to sit in the driver’s seat heading into the final weekend.
“Winning state last year was something we’d never done before, but winning state two years in a row would be something crazy special that would live on forever in Ponderosa baseball,” said Carey, a Nebraska commit. “And it will show 5A we were meant to be there. We’re just as good as those teams.”
Ponderosa will move back up to Class 5A next year, but first, the Mustangs (21-7) are focused on putting the finishing touches on a repeat. And it’s not just Carey’s bat leading the way. Ponderosa’s averaged 14 runs over five playoff games, including a 19-0 drubbing of Erie last Saturday to advance into the title game.
Carey is tied for the state lead with 13 homers on the season, but senior catcher Derek Lukes (five homers, Point Loma commit) and senior designated hitter Parker Dennis (four homers, Concordia commit) are also power bats in a lineup that’s hit 35 dingers with a .365 team average.
“Everyone’s barreling baseballs all season, and no one is trying to do too much,” Carey said. “If you get out, the next guy will get a hit. We’ve been living off each other’s success.”
Pitching-wise, the Mustangs are led by junior right-hander Gabe Jacobs and senior right-hander Tyler Smith, while senior right-hander Tyler Slattery has been clutch in middle relief and Carey throws gas as the closer. Those arms, combined with the depth of the lineup, have Ponderosa one win from the repeat.
The Mustangs play Saturday at 11 am at UCHealth Park against the winner of Erie and D’Evelyn/Cheyenne Mountain. Whoever emerges from the loser’s bracket to play Ponderosa will have to beat the Mustangs twice on Saturday in the double-elimination format. Ponderosa beat D’Evelyn 12-2 on April 1, and defeated the other two teams last weekend.
“Those three other teams are very capable of winning two games against us,” Ponderosa coach Bob Maloney said. “They get to reset their pitching staff, so we’ve got to stay focused. Even so, when our guys are dialed in, they’re tough to beat.”
The 13 seniors on the heavy favorite see an opportunity to further underscore Ponderosa’s elite status within the state. As senior center fielder Carson Conant explained, it’s a chance to put Class 5A on notice heading into 2023. The Mustangs have already done that within the Continental League, winning it last year and tying for third this year.
“Ponderosa really didn’t get the respect we thought it deserved in years past, so last year’s mission was about putting Pondo on the map and getting the program the respect it deserves,” said Conant, an Azusa Pacific commit.
“This year, it’s been all about trying to reemphasize that point and proving last year wasn’t a one-year fluke. If we go out and do our job this weekend, it’ll be hard to say that we’re not an immediate contender in Class 5A and that we can be a Top 5 team in that classification every year going forward.”
What To Watch For
Besides Ponderosa, here’s other storylines to be aware of heading into this weekend’s big-school state tournaments.
Broomfield is in the championship game after beating Valor Christian, Douglas County and Chaparral last weekend to get there. The Eagles (20-8) are led by senior catcher Camden Ross. The Wabash Valley commit is hitting .628 with nine homers and 42 RBIs for Broomfield, which also made the state tournament last year but got bounced on the first weekend.
Standing in the way of Broomfield’s first Class 5A title, and sixth overall, is Chaparral, Cherokee Trail and Legacy. Chaparral takes on the winner of Cherokee Trail and Legacy on Friday at 2:30 pm at All-City Stadium, with the winner of that game advancing to face the Eagles on Saturday at 11 am Broomfield, like Ponderosa in the 4A bracket, will need to be beaten twice.
Chaparral (22-6, Continental League champion) has the pitching depth to win multiple games thanks to the trio of senior right-hander Nate Pitts, senior southpaw James Harbison and senior right-hander Andrew Isdale. Cherokee Trail (20-7, Centennial League champion) features senior right-handed ace Tyler Wilcox (CSU-Pueblo) and already took down the tournament’s top two seeds. Legacy (25-3, Front Range League champion) played Broomfield competitively in a 5-2 loss on May 3.
Full Class 5A Bracket Here
D’Evelyn (19-9) hammered top-seeded Palisade 13-2 in last Saturday’s elimination game to get to this weekend. The Jaguars made the Final Four last year, so this is not a new territory for them, and they are led by junior shortstop Colin Kim (Colorado School of Mines) and junior right-hander Tate Aurich.
Erie (19-8) was blitzed for 11 runs in the first inning in last weekend’s blowout to Ponderosa, but is capable of bouncing back. Senior center fielder/first baseman Sam Stem (Gonzaga) is hitting .571, and he and fellow senior Trenton Rowan (Garden City) both have six homers this year.
Cheyenne Mountain (21-7) is the lone team that’s been able to hang with Ponderosa in the playoffs. The Red-Tailed Hawks trailed Ponderosa 9-8 heading into the sixth before the Mustangs pulled away last weekend. Cheyenne Mountain is led by senior catcher Denton Damgaard, who’s hitting .471 with eight homers.
Full Class 4A Bracket Here