DENVER — Twenty-four hours after tossing a complete-game one-run gem, Green Mountain senior Talon Schaller abandoned the bump to help his team in the batter's box.
Fortunately he left the mound in good hands.
Schaller finished a home run shy of the cycle and drove in two runs while starter Josh Ramirez pitched seven shutout innings to lead the Green Mountain Rams to a 4-0 win over the Lewis-Palmer Rangers and their second straight Class 4A state baseball championship Wednesday at the Regency Athletic Complex at Metro State University in Denver.
"We knew coming into this season we had a target on our backs. We knew that every single team wanted to get a piece of that state championship," said Schaller. "We knew that it was going to be a fight but we have a lot of fighters on this team."
After getting only two hits and still winning Tuesday against the D'Evelyn Jaguars, the Rams had a chance to take a commanding lead early against Lewis-Palmer starter Colin Cicere.
In the bottom of the first, junior Ram center fielder Wyatt Featherston doubled and stole third but was cut down by Ranger first baseman Hank Kuntzelman trying to score.
The big inning might have fizzled out, but with two-outs, and senior second-basemen Reid Effrein on first, Schaller connected on a line-drive double to the left-field gap to stake the Rams to an early one-run lead.
"That's just the kind of kid he is. He likes these big moments," said Green Mountain coach Brad Madden of Schaller after the game. "Some kids get white-light fever but he's the opposite. He wants to thrive under these lights."
Lewis-Palmer had their own chance in the top of the first to put runs on the board. After second-basemen Brian Tims' leadoff single, shortstop Ben Stinson doubled to put two men in scoring position.
But Ramirez was able to induce two straight comebackers and hold Tims at third, and then struck out Lewis-Palmer designated hitter Brad Kuglar to end the threat.
"It definitely was a missed opportunity. You put runners on second and third in the first inning of a championship game, the first thing you want to do is score first to put them so they have to play a little more conservatively," said Lewis-Palmer coach Tom McCabe after the game. "We had the right guys up, we had 3-4-5, we just didn't get it done."
"It's the game of baseball. Everything is inches. Something happens there and the game changes, but it didn't."
That was as much traffic as Ramirez, who didn't allow another runner to reach scoring position all day, faced.
"That's always been his thing. If we can get him through the first inning and get his nerves to settle down a little bit we knew he was just going to get better," said Madden of Ramirez after the game. "So when we got out of that jam in the first we had all the confidence in the world he was going to cruise."
The senior finished with a line of seven innings pitched, three strikeouts, zero runs allowed, and most importantly, the win.
"Just everything seemed to be on today. No matter what it was it just seemed to be a strike," said Ramirez. "That first inning got my pitch count up but I was able to just cruise from there."
He was helped out by some nice defensive plays by the senior Effrein, who ranged to his right and left at second-base to keep the Rangers off the base-paths in the second and third innings.
"I have one of the best defenses in the state of Colorado in my mind, and I'm blessed to have them. They helped me through everything," said Ramirez. "If I'm having a rough day I know I can get a ball on the ground and they'll help me out of it."
Meanwhile, the Rams were able to capitalize in the third inning, with the top of the order – and Schaller – once again doing the damage.
Featherston again singled to lead off and advanced all the way from first-to-third on Effrein's groundout to shortstop. Senior shortstop Cole Shetterly then doubled him home, with Schaller then driving in Shetterly with a triple to left center that fell just outside Lewis-Palmer center-fielder Ethan Liss' outstretched glove.
"We knew that it was going to be a tough game coming in. Lewis-Palmer is a great team with some great pitchers," said Schaller. "But coach has been telling us all year just be yourself at the plate and good things will happen. Obviously today I came up there and knew I was going to have a good day and showed it."
Schaller finished 3-for-3 with two RBI's in his final game as a Ram.
For Lewis-Palmer, Cicere continued to battle – after giving up one more run in the fourth, he held the Rams scoreless in the fourth and fifth.
"I think he did a great job. We started off throwing a lot of off-speed stuff and we probably should have kept a lot more fastballs and it looked like they stayed back and drove a couple pitches, so I'll take the blame for that," said McCabe. "Towards the end of the game we were throwing a lot more fastballs and Colin did a great job. The boys kept their heads up."
Cicere finished with a line of seven innings pitched, five strikeouts, and four runs allowed, all earned.
But as much as the Rangers battled in the field, they were unable to get anything going against Ramirez, who only got stronger as the game went on. In the bottom of the seventh, with a man on, he struck out two straight Rangers and induced a fly-ball to left to clinch the victory.
After the game, Madden reflected on his team's back-to-back championships – and thought that this time around, the road was a little easier.
"It was kind of weird feeling this time," said Madden. "Last year we had to fight the whole way through because we lost that first game but this year we kind of cruised through this thing and proved we were the best team in the state."
The path to another championship might have felt strange to Madden, but the Gatorade bath after the game?
"It felt great," he said. "I'm so proud of our guys."