Playing an early game and then coming back several hours later to play another sometimes works against a team.
Then again, Dakota Ridge knew how to use a break to its advantage.
The Eagles defeated Fruita Monument 19-2 in a morning game May 3 in the first round of the Class 5A District 4 baseball tournament. Dakota Ridge then returned to play Monarch – a first-round winner over Regis Jesuit 11-6 – for the second game of the day. The Eagles’ 9-4 victory propelled them into the state championship which begins May 9 at All-City Field in Denver.
“I think we had the advantage over Monarch because we had a little rest,” said Dakota Ridge junior Alex Ellison, who picked up the win on the mound in 6 and 2/3 innings. “We were ready for this.”
Monarch’s game against Regis preceded the game against the Eagles and Monarch was given just a 30-minute break before its second game. And, with Monarch already being warmed up it looked as if Dakota Ridge might be in trouble early on.
The Coyotes’ leadoff batter, Brandon Vaughn, hit a single to deep left field. He was thrown out at second on teammate Cale Soole’s fielder’s choice, but Shay Maltese singled to advance Soole. Both Maltese and Soole made a double steal to set Soole up in scoring position. Soole snuck home as Dakota Ridge’s defense decided to throw out the next batter at first. Ellison got out of the inning by striking out the next batter.
Then the Eagles decided to give it a try themselves in the bottom of the first.
Leadoff hitter Drew Phelan got on base by a Monarch error, stole second and advanced to third as Eric Cain was thrown out at first. Phelan scored on an RBI single by J.C. Ochoa, who was later walked home for the second run of the inning.
In the third inning, Monarch used what seemed to be its momentum from the first game to start a scoring rally. The Coyotes’ Vaughn was walked to lead off the inning and went to second as Soole was also walked. Maltese then smacked a home run over the left-field fence to bring home Vaughn and Soole to give Monarch a 4-2 lead.
“J.C. (the catcher) just kept me in it after that and settled me down,” Ellison said. “I knew I had the defense behind me and that helped.”
Ellison assumed correctly as Dakota Ridge found its own hitting rhythm in the fourth.
With one out, Cameron Pritchett hit a single up the left side and moved to second on Phelan’s single up the middle. Both Pritchett and Phelan advanced on a wild pitch and both scored on Andrew Melton’s double deep to center field. Cain was intentionally walked to give the Coyotes a chance to make a double play. However, the plan was thwarted as Ochoa smacked a 3-run home run.
“Eric gets walked so much now that I know I’m going to get a fastball on the first pitch because the pitcher wants to get on top (of the count),” said Ochoa, who was 3-for-3 against Monarch. “I just sat back and drove the ball. I think Andrew’s double was just the team builder and we kept building off that.”
The Eagles’ defense kept Monarch from scoring in the next three innings. Pritchett made a nice catch on a high pop fly in right field in the fifth and Zach Porter connected with David Whitaker to throw out a couple of Coyotes runners at first in the fifth and sixth.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Eagles decided to add a couple of more crowd-pleasing homeruns and put the game away for good. Melton led off with a homer to left –center and one out later Ochoa hit his second home run of the game with a lofty one over the left field fence.
After two outs and two on in the top of the seventh, Ellison was relieved on the mound by Melton. As Maltese connected with one of Melton’s pitches, it looked as if Monarch would try and cut the deficit.
But, Phelan got under the ball in center field for the final out. The Eagles scrambled together to celebrate their first trip to state since 2004.
“We’re just going to take it one game at a time at state,” said Melton, who was 2-for-4 in the game. “This feels great. I can’t put it into words. Being one of the final eight teams in Colorado is just great.”