In what probably is the worst-kept secret in Colorado Class 2A baseball, left-hander Denton Keys is back for the stretch run for defending champion Rye.
"He's back, and he's going to throw from here on out," Rye coach Larry Milligan said last week. "We have six games left (which included districts) to win another state title, and we will use him whenever we need to."
Keys, a junior, threw three innings against Trinidad on April 26 in his first action back from a serious knee injury sustained in late December during the basketball season. Milligan said he tried to keep the initial appearance under wraps, not wanting to generate any needless hype, especially if it didn't go as expected or there were any setbacks afterward.
State followers and reporters noticed, though, after the statistics were posted on MaxPreps. It turns out he didn't need to worry, as Keys threw 36 pitches – 27 for strikes – and struck out all nine batters he faced.
"He had been throwing bullpens, trying to see how everything felt," Milligan said. "His doctors said it would be OK for him to test it in our last regular-season game, and he said it felt OK later."
Keys did not pitch in the District 5 tournament this past weekend, though, as Rye romped to a pair of wins by a combined score of 37-0. (He did play some first base and had four hits in six at bats). Last season in an All-Colorado effort, Keys went 11-0 with a 0.86 ERA and 148 strikeouts.
The layoff also seemed to energize the left arm of the 6-foot-4, 195-pound Keys. Milligan said last year Keys consistently hit 86-87 mph on the radar gun, but lit it up last week at 88-91. He said a scout from Kentucky came to watch him at practice last week and said, "He could throw for me this weekend."
Milligan concurred. "He has a phenomenal arm, the best in the state, in my opinion," he said.
Keys combines with Creighton recruit Nick Highberger (5-1, 0.36 ERA, 66 strikeouts) to form one of the best pitching duos in the state, regardless of classification. Highberger fired a one-hitter and struck out 12 in a 12-0 victory against John Mall (Walsenburg) in the district championship.
"It really sets us up," Milligan said. "We felt we were in a good position to repeat with Nick and our other pitchers, but this really makes a big difference. We are very excited about it."
Keys, Highberger and the rest of the Thunderbolts will get the opportunity to test themselves against the state's best, as they will make the trip to the metro area Tuesday to scrimmage Cherry Creek (Greenwood Village), which is ranked No. 1 in Class 5A.
Rye is the top seed in the 2A regionals this week, followed by Las Animas, Resurrection Christian (Loveland) and Denver Christian.
MaxPreps Colorado Class 2A Baseball Playoffs