DENVER – In a state high school baseball tournament, strong pitching is supremely precious. Mark Swope of Cheyenne Mountain understands this truth. He rode strong pitching to state titles in 2009 and 2011.
This season’s edition of CM took a long ride, but the lack of deep pitching wealth led to the end of a surprising season. Cheyenne Mountain lost 15-5 to Valor Christian in the championship play-in game of the 4A state tournament at All-City Field.
A few minutes after the loss, Swope took care to hug each of his players and offer a few encouraging words. Many of his players were weeping, but Swope remained steady. He knows this team, which finished 18-8, flew higher than expected.
After the hugs, he talked about the pitching, or lack of it. You can’t accuse Swope of not trying. He used seven pitchers in Wednesday’s loss.
“Our philosophy all year,” Swope said, “was we don’t need to strike people out. We don’t have that kind of stuff. We pitch for soft contact. We pitch to keep the ball down in the zone. That’s a formula that’s worked for us the last couple years.”
“But we ran into a juggernaut,” he said, shaking his head. “We really did.”
CM had its chances. Swope’s team fell behind 5-1, but fought back to a 7-5 deficit before an ambitious squeeze bunt sequence turned messy. For an instant, it looked as if CM might pull off yet another comeback victory.
Cheyenne Mountain fell behind 6-0 on Tuesday against Pueblo West, and its season was teetering on extinction, but CM somehow escaped with a 7-6 win.
Ah, no. Not this time.
Cheyenne Mountain’s roster is filled with sophomores, and Swope could again rule the state in the near future, but Wednesday’s pitching troubles have been brewing for a few weeks. CM has allowed 10 or more runs four times since April 28. There were obviously holes in the pitching staff.
“When we won everything in 2009 and 2011, we had strong arms with command and velocity,” Swope said. “You can pick and choose the spot when you use those arms.”
He’s right. In 2011, CM shut out Wheat Ridge to win the 4A title.
“This season,” Swope said, “everyone has the same thing in mind: Don’t overpower anybody, but when you don’t have that control and you’re not down in the strike zone, good teams are going to expose you, and that’s what happened today.”
Hitting tends to command high school baseball. Big batting averages are common. So are big final scores that resemble football games.
To rule Colorado, a high school team almost always requires a big dose of superlative pitching, too, and that level of pitching is rare.