Jack Stimple caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye, and that was all it took.
The Cheyenne Mountain first baseman had just caught a throw from his second baseman to complete a sixth-inning double play when he saw a third Palmer Ridge runner round third base just a bit too wide. Stimple threw behind him, completing the rare 6-4-3-5 triple play and squashing a potential threat from the Bears.
Though the Indians went on to a seemingly comfortable 11-3 victory Tuesday in advancing to the 4A Metro semifinals, it was because of plays like that and because, after what happened last year, they were taking nothing for granted.
“It was a momentum changer,” said Stimple, whose team led 6-2 at the time of the triple play. “They had two guys on and no out and were on the verge of a big inning, you never know what could have happened. A hit here, an error here and the game is completely different.”
The Indians saw firsthand last year how things could be different when their three-run lead disappeared as Coronado scored four times in the sixth inning to notch an upset in this round. As a result, Cheyenne Mountain grabbed the bizarre stat line of the season --- fifth in league, first in state.
Despite Bret Helton’s early dominance on the mound and a four-run lead after the first inning, Cheyenne Mountain had every reason for concern on a day that saw a number of strange bounces.
Two of Cheyenne Mountain’s early runs came after a ground ball bounced off second base and into center field.
Palmer Ridge scored its first two runs on what was technically a two-run home run for Billy Schulze, who hit a ball down the right-field line that appeared to go into netting of the batting cage. Right fielder Joel Stahn raised his arms and Cheyenne Mountain assumed the ball was dead, but the umpires never stopped play and Schulze rounded the bases.
Still, Cheyenne Mountain was never in serious danger because of Helton.
As Utah representatives and Northern Colorado coach Carl Iwasaki watched, Helton carried a no-hitter through two outs in the fifth inning.
“He didn’t really have his fastball working all that well,” Cheyenne Mountain coach Mark Swope said of Helton, who was still sitting in the upper 80s according to at least one of the handful of radar guns focused on the senior right-hander. “He did a really nice job of changing his speeds.”
Cheyenne Mountain padded the lead for Helton just after the triple play when catcher Jerry Lacayo hit a two-run home run to left.
Palmer Ridge, which won the 4A Metro crossover tournament last year before graduating a loaded class of 10 seniors, can finish no higher than fifth.
“We gave up eight unearned runs,” Bears coach Rob McCoy said. “That’s kind of been our mantra this season. We can beat anybody, but we’re just as capable of beating ourselves.”