Updated: April 22, 2014 at 9:24 pm
Monument - Four games left in the conference season and Lewis-Palmer has a three-game lead following a sweep of second-place Palmer Ridge.
Forgive the Rangers if they were jubilant after Tuesday's 9-3 win over the Bears.
Starter Colin Cicere struck out 10 - including back-to-back Ks to end each of the last four innings - eight-hole hitter Billy Cook drove in three RBIs in his last two at-bats and PJ Underwood made the Bears pay for intentionally walking the batter before him to all-but seal the 4A Pikes Peak Athletic Conference crown.
"This team, they are complementing each other," L-P coach Tom McCabe said. "Everyone knows what their role is."
Cicere threw all seven innings for the Rangers (12-3 overall, 10-0 4A PPAC). He gave up three unearned runs and shut down every chance Palmer Ridge had to blow the game open.
The Bears (10-5, 8-3) put the first two hitters on in the fifth inning and put a runner on third with one out in the sixth. Both times, Cicere got out of the jams with consecutive strikeouts, relying heavily on a slider.
"That's a pitch I can pretty much locate all the time," Cicere said.
Cicere gave up a run in the fifth to see the Bears take their only lead of the game 2-1. But the Rangers rallied the following inning. After outs by the first two batters, the next two walked and Cicere singled to load the bases. Hank Kuntzelman tied the game when he walked, which brought up Cook. An error in the previous inning that led to the Bears' lead left the freshman looking to right a wrong.
He came through with flying colors, driving a two-run single to right on a 1-2 pitch.
"I felt like I owed it to my team to hit the ball, score a few runs to prove to them I can play with them," said Cook, who also drove in a run in his next at-bat. "Those errors were just part of the game, and whatever I do I can make up for that."
The Rangers put up three runs in the inning, then added five more in the top of the seventh to take a commanding 9-2 lead, keyed by a two-out single by Underwood after Carson Haws had been intentionally walked.
"We've really concentrated on being very disciplined at the plate," McCabe said. "So if they want to pass us I'm very confident we don't go fishing too often."
Wasted opportunities killed the Bears. They had at least one base runner in every inning. Trailing 5-2 in the bottom of the sixth, Evan Sandberg tripled to the gap in right-center with one out. But again Cicere struck out the next two to end a rally attempt.
"If we would've blown the game open in those middle innings it would've really helped us in the end," said Bears starter Jake Weems, who took the loss.
The Rangers, on the other hand, drove in eight of their nine runs with two outs.
"We just didn't make an out, ... that made him (Weems) keep throwing pitches," Bears coach Steve Whiting said. "It just kind of manifested, blew up from there."