COLORADO SPRINGS — Cheyenne Mountian certainly looked like a team that belonged in last year's Class 4A baseball semifinals. The thing is, the Indians didn't even come out of the regular season as the Pikes Peak Athletic Conference champions.
A few days ago, it was No. 6 Palmer Ridge (9-4 overall, 4-2 PPAC) who jumped out to the first lead of the game. Cheyenne Mountain battled back and the lineup was able to give Mike Ellis the support he needed in his time on the mound.
Thursday, it was pitcher Devin Dodson who did the heavy lifting. He threw seven innings and allowed just two hits while striking out 11 Palmer Ridge hitters. Charlie Deeds, Gabriel Rogers and Jack Wotta - the top three hitters in the Bears' lineup - went a combined 1-for-7.
"That's a good team," coach Mark Swope said of Palmer Ridge immediately after the final out was made.
But his team was better. And as the end of the regular season gets closer every day, Cheyenne Mountain (11-1, 6-0) looks to have a pitching staff that is once again poised for another deep playoff run.
"We're deep," Swope said. "We have all our pitchers back from last year's semifinal team. We have arms and we can work matchups."
It's a formula that has been successful in the playoffs for previous state champions. The biggest thing going for Cheyenne Mountain is that three guys in Ellis, Dodson and Cam Buckler can start on the bump and provide solid innings.
Each of them have made at least three starts this year and are a combined 7-1 on the year. As regimented and methodical as he is, Swope certainly has the ability to pick his poison on any given day and the boys are more than willing to deliver when needed.
"It's always good to see everyone succeed on our staff," Ellis said. "Especially Devon. He helped us out a lot last year in the playoffs."
What helps is a game like Thursday where Cheyenne Mountain can grab an early lead. Aaron Berkhoff led off with a single in the first and got moved to second when Grant Mondejar was hit. A Buckler sacrifice bunt got Berkhoff to third and he scored on an Ellis ground ball to first.
Once that run came through, Dodson felt like he had all the support he needed for the day.
"After that first inning I got some insurance and really just started throwing my game," he said.
The biggest obstacle for Cheyenne Mountain's hopes at a league title now becomes Lewis-Palmer. The PPAC rivals won't play each other until early May. For now, Swope and his players will enjoy avenging the losses to the Bears a year ago.
"We had our eyes on this series," Swope said. "Taking that first game at their place was big because it took some momentum out of their sails. I sense that maybe they were down coming into this game. It was a huge series for us."