At times, escaping baseball regionals can seem like more of a cumbersome task than making a solid run in the state tournament.
There is no margin for error, after all, in regionals. One loss and you're out.
If you're fortunate to escape as one of the eight regional winners, the double-elimination state tournament offers an opportunity to rebound from that initial loss.
Regional brackets were released Wednesday for Classes 5A, 4A and 3A, and we'll take a subjective look at the one we believe to be the toughest in each classification. To be clear, most of them appear very challenging, which, to be fair, is the very point when seeding them.
"To be honest, all the regions are tough," Mountain Range (Westminster)
coach DJ Yeager said. "Winning two games in one day against any of the top 32 teams in the state is a tough challenge for anyone. As we focus in on our bracket, I think the case can be made that there will be some great baseball being played at our field on Saturday."
Yeager didn't proclaim the Mustangs' Region 8 as the toughest in 5A, but we will. In addition to regional top-seed Mountain Range (16-3), the bracket includes Eaglecrest (Centennial)
, Highlands Ranch
and Dakota Ridge (Littleton)
Eaglecrest (15-4) began the season with nine straight wins, and the Raptors enter as an inspired bunch after finishing 4-15 last season. Garrett Tisdall
has been a dual threat as a pitcher (8-2, 2.27 ERA) and a powerful bat in the lineup (six homers, 23 RBI).
Highlands Ranch enters with a 10-9 mark, but the Falcons navigated through the brutal Continental League, which features an abundance of top-flight contenders. They'll be battle-tested and have a solid lineup led by Sean Arnold
and Jordan Medina
Dakota Ridge also enters 10-9, but the Eagles are a perennial contender. They'll need a strong pitching performance, presumably from senior Carter Akerfelds
, to knock off Mountain Range in the opening round.
Mountain Range, meanwhile, has a top-shelf pitcher in senior Jacob Arellano
(5-0, 0.44 ERA; only two runs allowed) and a solid staff overall. Brayden Brooks
is 5-1 and Mike Polson
sports a 1.77 ERA.
"Our entire pitching staff has been excellent all year," Yeager said. "You don't win 16 games in a season without quality pitching. I believe in all of our guys. I believe they will go out and compete and be at their best in big moments."
Yeager preaches a mentality of throwing strikes and letting the defense make plays, and the Mustangs have bought in. They've walked only 35 batters in their 19 games. Class 5A district bracketsIn Class 4A
, Region 2 features a Green Mountain (Lakewood)
squad that won it all in 2014 and 2015 and has compiled a 15-3 mark this season. And the Rams, whose pitchers JD Wadleigh
and Matthew Ramirez
have combined to go 13-1, are the No. 2 seed in the region.
The top seed is Colorado Springs Metro League champ Canon City
(15-4), which enters on an eight-game winning streak. The Tim Ritter-coached Tigers have gotten stellar seasons from sophomore infielder Lincoln Andrews
(.500 average, three homers, 28 RBI) and senior ace Luke Nethercot
(4-1, 1.50 ERA).
The region also includes third-seeded Longmont
(10-8), which occupied the No. 1 spot in the CHSAANow.com rankings earlier in the season. The Trojans endured a midseason rough patch but closed by winning four of six. They'll likely send left-hander Dagin Renck
to the mound in the opener against Green Mountain.
(10-9) rounds out the region, a Demons squad that won't be intimidated after spending the year in the talented Jeffco League. Junior Ethan Whitson
has bashed 12 doubles and driven in 31. Class 4A district brackets
Region 7 in Class 3A
is another that stands out for its ruggedness. Led by Patriot League champion University (Greeley)
(14-4), which finished No. 3 in the final regular-season rankings, the region also includes the 2016 state champ, Faith Christian (Arvada)
University enters as the favorite with sluggers Grayson Swanson
and Levi Dart
, and can take immense pride in winning the state's toughest league after Eaton's extended run of dominance. The Bulldogs open against Kent Denver (Englewood)
, which plays in the solid Metro League.
The Sun Devils' 8-11 mark might not leave many shaking, but ace Noah VanSickle
's numbers might. He's gone 4-0 with an 0.91 ERA, having allowed only five earned runs (10 total) in nearly 39 innings. One of Kent Denver's wins was a convincing 9-3 decision against Faith Christian.
Faith Christian made the coaching transition from Ralph Nance to Jim Polson after last season's title, and the Eagles (13-6) remain a force. Senior pitcher Landon Ford
sports a 1.10 ERA, which paces an impressive staff ERA of 2.28.
The Eagles will open against third-seeded The Academy (Westminster)
(12-6), which finished second in the Frontier League. Trenton Miller
and Andrew Feola
have driven in 20 runs apiece to pace a balanced lineup and pitcher Cole Thompson
is 4-0 with a 1.63 ERA.Class 3A district brackets