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It's a fine line between finishing first and finishing eighth in the Class 5A Continental League.
The league is stacked this season as eight teams are within two games of the lead as the regular season winds down. Rock Canyon (Highlands Ranch)
, which is ranked No. 2 in the latest CHSAANow.com poll, currently is sitting No. 7 in the league standings with a 4-4 mark.
The leader? That would be surprising Douglas County (12-5, 6-2), which climbed into the rankings at No. 7 this week. The Huskies take on Mountain Vista on Monday – the Golden Eagles (12-3, 5-2) are tied with ThunderRidge for second place – in a showdown that could determine the league crown.
That matchup leads our look at a handful of key games down the stretch that could have a pronounced impact on league races.
Douglas County (Castle Rock) at Mountain Vista (Highlands Ranch), 4:15 p.m., May 1
As mentioned above, the Continental League standings are so jam-packed that late-season results will have far-reaching ramifications. Lucas DeGarmo
(4-1, 1.93 ERA) has done the heavy lifting for Douglas County and the 6-foot-4 junior could get the call in this one. Air Force-bound Cole Blatchford
(4-2, 2.33 ERA) has been one of three stellar starters for Mountain Vista and also has blasted six home runs.
Mountain Range (Westminster) at Rocky Mountain (Fort Collins), 11 a.m., April 29
OK, so this one likely will be snowed out and moved to the following week if forecasts can be believed, but whenever it happens, it'll be a good one. No. 4 Rocky Mountain (10-5, 9-1) is closing in another Front Range League crown, but it won't be easy against No. 6 Mountain Range (15-2, 8-2), which is receiving first-place votes. Rocky is led by senior Spencer Gendreau
(.450 average, 3 home runs, 25 RBIs) while Mountain Range counters with senior pitcher Jacob Arellano
(4-0, 0.56 ERA), who has permitted only two runs this season.
Summit (Frisco) at Palisade, 3 p.m., and 5 p.m. April 28
Summit lefty Andrew Shaw
(6-1, 0.81 ERA) has been one of the most impressive pitchers in the state this season. Ditto for Palisade's John Taber
(5-1, 1.81), who threw a perfect game against Glenwood Springs on April 22. Perhaps they'll square off in this doubleheader, which could decide the Western Slope League. Summit enters 7-0 in league play, Palisade 8-1.
Canon City at Mesa Ridge (Colorado Springs), 4 p.m., May 2
Although Canon City (11-4, 4-0) is having the better overall season, Mesa Ridge (7-8, 5-0) also hasn't lost in the Colorado Springs Metro League play. That means this one could be a straight-up league title game. Eight players have driven in at least 10 runs for Canon City, while Mesa Ridge has thrived behind slugger Dalton Bishop
(.521, 4 HR, 23 RBIs). Class 3A
Valley (Gilcrest) at University (Greeley), 4 p.m., May 2
Three teams are tied atop the Patriot League, and to everyone's surprise, longtime league stalwart Eaton
isn't among the fray. Instead, it's University, Valley and Resurrection Christian (Loveland)
that share a 6-1 league mark. No. 2 University and No. 7 Valley will meet in this showdown. The Vikings' Jose Mercado
(6-1, 2.45 ERA) could get the call in hopes of cooling off University, which has won seven straight.
Delta at Gunnison, 3 p.m., May 4
Delta has outscored Western Slope foes 87-6 in rocketing to a 6-0 league mark, but it's No. 10 Gunnison (11-3, 5-1) that is in the rankings this week. Led by senior Tristan Brown
, Delta (12-4 overall) will have a chance to lock down a league title in this one. Gunnison, meanwhile, will be aiming to overthrow the Panthers and earn the league's top seed. Trent Cribari
is 7-1 with a 1.00 ERA for the Cowboys. Class 2A
Hotchkiss at Paonia, 4 p.m., April 28
Top-ranked Paonia edged Hotchkiss 4-3 on Thursday. The Bulldogs will have their chance at revenge Friday and an opportunity to knot the 2A Western Slope standings. Thursday marked the first time Paonia (16-0, 5-1) had been played to within a run (the Eagles have won two two-run games). Kayden Seriani
struck out 14 to earn the win, but Hotchkiss (12-3, 5-1) prevented him from hitting his eighth homer of the season. The Bulldogs' Jonathan Gonzalez
fell to 4-2 with the loss.
Holly at Eads, 10 a.m., April 28
This one was moved up to 10 a.m. in an effort to beat the weather. Each team is unbeaten in District 3 play, and this is nearly as big as it gets for a 1A regular-season game. Top-ranked Holly is the reigning state champion and No. 3 Eads is seeking some revenge for losing to the Wildcats in the semifinals last season. Holly's Ricardo Juarez
and Eads' Steven Wilson
are among the top rung of small-school pitchers.