Officially, the Class 5A baseball postseason begins May 12.
The Continental League tends to disagree. It seems as if those squads already are entrenched in the playoffs.
In what appears to be the state's finest top-to-bottom league, competition is getting fierce. The league offers only six postseason qualifiers, but there are many more competitors. Ten of the teams entered Wednesday with a .500 or better overall record, and at least eight can make a legitimate argument that they are postseason-worthy.
"It is going to be a grind and a dogfight down to the final week," Ponderosa (Parker)
coach Jarod Nicholson said.
How tight are things? Defending champion Regis Jesuit (Aurora)
, now coached by former Major Leaguer Walt Weiss after Steve Cavnar went out with a title, is tied with Chaparral (Parker)
for the league's top spot. Both are 4-0 in league play (the teams meet on May 2).
But then four others are lurking right behind at 3-1: Ponderosa, Castle View (Castle Rock)
, Highlands Ranch
and upstart Legend (Parker)
. And don't forget about Douglas County (Castle Rock)
which has already one-upped its win total from last season by posting an overall 9-3 record.
"With only six spots from our league, there will be some very deserving teams that don't make it," Castle View coach Shawn Wyss said. "I know that there is a lot of scoreboard-watching every night. This is what is great about being in a league like this. The teams that do make it will be battle-tested when it comes to playoff time."
While Regis' pedigree speaks for itself, the Raiders also boast a potent lineup, led by sophomore second baseman
(.488, three home runs, 11 RBIs). Chaparral has been buoyed by Max Kuhns
(.576 average, five home runs, 19 RBIs) and pitcher Riley O'Brien
. The junior lefthander is 4-1 with a 1.62 ERA.
That tandem will make the Wolverines dangerous in the postseason – provided they get in. In the Continental League, one three-game swoon can rearrange the entire standings.
"Every game has to have that postseason feel with only six spots," Chaparral coach Tony Persichina said. "We tell our players that, in a 19-game season, it's playoff baseball from start to end. We must win a five-game series and two seven-game series to make the playoffs."
Persichina alluded to the notion that the league is in a cycle where it has more top-notch coaches and players than usual. And he pays attention to how the league fares in the postseason, such as last year, when Regis Jesuit and Highlands Ranch each were among the final four.
Highlands Ranch has perhaps the biggest name in righthander Ryan Burr
, the subject of a MaxPreps feature last month
. Burr will attend Arizona State if he doesn't sign with an MLB team, though he is likely to be chosen high in June's amateur draft. Burr, though, has struggled this spring (1-2, 5.16 ERA).
Perhaps the most intriguing of the convoluted group is Legend, which is the least-traditional name of the bunch. That's because the Titans are the newest school and went 7-12 overall last season. The Titans, though, are blessed with some amazing arms on their pitching staff, including Tyler Honahan
(3-2, 2.33 ERA; 55 strikeouts in 33 innings).
"I think our team is coming together at the right time, and they are all playing hard each game for our program," Legend coach Scott Fellers said. "We have really focused on the ‘team' aspect this spring and it is starting to pay off for us in league play. I am so proud of the way we compete, and I hope we finish in the top six and make the playoffs."
On paper, Ponderosa (9-3 overall) appears the least favorable matchup for opponents. The Mustangs have ransacked competition by a composite 110-46score this season as senior Andrew Paust
has been outright killing the ball (.410, five homers, 23 RBIs). Only Douglas County has scored more runs (114).
"There are legitimately nine or 10 teams, or even more, that deserve to play postseason baseball," Nicholson said. "With only six spots up for grabs, it truly makes you take it one game at a time. There are no off days in this conference and any team is capable of beating another on any given day."
Castle View has gotten solid across-the-board production from the likes of Austin Smith
(.471 average) and pitcher Chad Sonka
(3-0, 1.31 ERA). Douglas County senior centerfielder Jordan Leinweber
is in the conversation for the league's top offensive player. He is batting an otherworldly .614 with six homers and 28 RBIs. Mountain Vista (Highlands Ranch)
, ThunderRidge (Highlands Ranch)
and Rock Canyon (Highlands Ranch)
have proven to be no pushovers either, although that trio has some work to do to get back in the race.
Such is life in the Continental League, where the postseason long since has begun.