In the fight for the 4A Pikes Peak Athletic Conference baseball title, round 1 went to Lewis-Palmer.
The Rangers edged rival Palmer Ridge 2-1 at home Saturday afternoon to take a two-game lead over the Bears in the conference.
The two best 4A teams in the city, and two of the best in the state, went toe-to-toe for seven innings, with a handful of plays determining the huge win for Lewis-Palmer (11-3 overall, 9-0 4A PPAC).
Lewis-Palmer's Paul Tillotson and Palmer Ridge's Kurt Larson each struck out 10 batters. The pitchers dueled all afternoon, getting out of jams and keeping their teams in the game. Tillotson came out on top, with an assist from Colin Cicere, who recorded the last two outs in the seventh inning.
"I had a lot of confidence in Colin, and I knew we were in good hands," said Tillotson, who exited after 61/3 innings and with runners on first and third. "This gives us a taste of what we're going to see in the state tournament; it was nice to win a close game."
Lewis-Palmer entered the week ranked seventh in the state in 4A by the Associated Press, while Palmer Ridge ranked eighth.
Cicere loaded the bases after walking the first batter he faced in the top of the seventh. He then locked it down, striking out Carter Thorne and getting Jake Weems to ground out to end the game.
Cicere, normally a starting pitcher, rarely sees action as a reliever, but he was ready when Lewis-Palmer coach Tom McCabe called upon him to clinch the important victory.
"I said to myself that I just had to throw strikes because I knew my teammates would make plays behind me," said Cicere, who is expected to get the start when the teams play again at Palmer Ridge (10-4, 8-2) on Tuesday. "I still plan to start Tuesday, but coach asked me if I was ready in the seventh and my adrenaline was pumping playing against Palmer Ridge."
Palmer Ridge struck first, scoring a run in the top of the first when Weems lined an RBI single into right field with two outs. The Bears would strand two runners in the first, and 10 in the game. In the end, Palmer Ridge could've used another tally on the scoreboard.
Larson held L-P scoreless until the fourth inning, when he allowed the first two runners to reach base. With men on second and third and one out, Cicere hit the ball to shortstop Jack Stamper, who made a throwing error which allowed L-P's only two runs of the game to score.
"We need to focus on our hitting and ability to get guys on base, and we also need to work on our fielding," said Larson, who threw 118 pitches in six innings. "The game Tuesday is definitely a must-win to stay in the conference race, and we'll have to play our best."
McCabe was happy to win, regardless of how it happened, and says the pressure is firmly on Palmer Ridge heading into Tuesday.
"This was the key game, and now they have to beat us on Tuesday," McCabe said. "It was big for us to win at home. Now when we go to Palmer Ridge I'll stress to the boys to be nice and loose and try to execute our game plan."