Dakota Ridge, Denver West mirror each other’s style, tenacity in the baseball diamond

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By Craig Harper
For the Courier


LAKEWOOD — If baseball doppelgangers exist, look no further than the Dakota Ridge Eagles and Denver West Cougars.
Rivals in the U.S. Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) 12-under Majors classification, both teams pride themselves being community-oriented programs – the Eagles represent the Dakota Ridge High School district; the Cougars are predominantly comprised of players from Evergreen and Conifer – whose coaches stress the fundamentals of the sport.
And when they play each other, it’s usually anybody’s ballgame. That was evident when they squared off for the second time this summer in the pool-play round of the USSSA state tournament at Addenbrooke Park on Saturday. The Eagles prevailed for the second time in two weeks, winning 9-8 by scoring twice in the top of the sixth inning after the Cougars overcame an early five-run deficit to lead 8-7 after five.
“Every time,’’ Eagles coach Joe Collins replied when asked if the state-tournament game was typical of previous games between the teams. “In years past, we’ve played Evergreen two-to-four times a year and we’re about .500 against them. I think we’re evenly matched teams, and I’d play teams like that all the time because I don’t believe they’re one of the powerhouse, loaded-up tournament teams. They’re just like us. And I love the fact that every game we play anything can happen. It makes it for a fun time for the boys.’’
The game was a reversal of sorts from the Eagles’ 7-5 victory in the Summer Slam tournament two weeks earlier, when the Cougars lost an early lead to a big inning by Dakota Ridge.
“It’s always a good matchup,’’ said Cougars coach Chris Parr. “We’ve traded games back and forth for years now. Basically, these two teams have just continued to play each other over the years. It’s one of our great rivalries.’’
Both teams went 1-1 in the pool-play portion of the tournament, which determined seeding for the single-elimination bracket. The Cougars beat the Chatfield-based South Jeffco Chargers 10-5, while the Eagles bowed 7-2 to the 3n2 Warriors, who Collins called “one of the top teams in the state.’’
“Yeah, we’ll take that for sure. We needed that one,’’ Collins said of regrouping after the loss. “It was definitely a good come-from-behind win after we kind of gave it away toward the end.’’
Logan Culp’s RBI single capped a two-run sixth as the Eagles, who led 5-0 after 2½ innings, regained the lead. The Cougars scored three times in the third, twice in the fourth and three more in the fifth for their only lead of the game. Josh Arquette, August Weber and Tommy Poholsky had RBI singles in the fifth for the Cougars. Both teams (the Cougars in the fifth, the Eagles in the sixth) stranded the bases loaded with two outs. And the Cougars couldn’t bring home Justin Lipka, who reached second base after his third hit and a stolen base with two outs in the sixth.
An off-target throw on a potential inning-ending double play in the first, which followed a walk and hit batter, and a miscommunication between the shortstop and center fielder aided solo tallies in the first and second by the Eagles. Dakota added three more in the third with the help of another hit-by-pitch and an error.
Cade Collins, JR Lord and Culp had two hits apiece for the Eagles with Lord and Culp driving in two runs apiece.
Josh Lipka, Cal Parr and Arquette, the one-two-three batters in the Cougars’ batting order, combined for seven hits, including three for Lipka.
The Eagles and Cougars will play further into the season, but not in USSSA regionals, if they qualify. Instead, Collins and Parr’s teams will travel to Cooperstown, N.Y., next month for a tournament and a chance to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame.