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The Peyton Panthers cheer and point at the crowd to thank them for their support throughout the year.

When Peyton made its historic ride to the program’s first state baseball championship in 2019, the Panthers outscored opponents 33-3 through the postseason, earning a District 8 title in a 10-inning battle over local rival Calhan before battling through the regional and state bracket.

Peyton didn’t get a chance to defend its Class 2A title in 2020 due to COVID-19 cancellations, but the team will return to the diamond in 2021 facing a revamped postseason bracket.

Last week the Colorado High School Activities Association approved changes to the 2A postseason, transitioning the class from a 36-team district bracket, to a 32-team regional competition followed by an eight-team state tournament. The elimination of the district tournament aligns the classification to what is done in 3A, 4A and 5A, and helps programs avoid playing the same teams multiple times.

It is a welcome change, according to Peyton coach Kelly Nickell, who said moving to an eight-team state tournament will increase competitiveness and in some cases enhance strategy.

“That first round for us even in the last couple of years has been tough facing the best pitchers from the 16 or 15 seeds,” Nickell said, “and now competing No. 1 vs. No. 8 or No. 2 vs. No. 7, those first-round games should be very competitive.”

The change also allows teams to schedule up to 23 regular-season games. Previously, 2A was allotted 19 regular-season games in addition to the district tournament. While some teams cannot accommodate a 23-game regular season, plus postseason games due to roster challenges, namely pitching, CHSAA also announced a 17-game minimum for qualifying for the postseason.

According to an outline of the baseball committee recommendations published to CHSAANow.com in November, the committee recommended the state tournament begin first-round games on a Thursday at Runyon Complex in Pueblo, followed by semifinal and final games on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Nickell said, however, Western Slope teams requested an amendment to play the championships the following week. The latest update from CHSAA regarding the legislative council changes to 2A baseball did not mention the tournament schedule.

“The goal is to have the best pitchers going against each other in the championships,” Nickell said. With pitch count and inning rules in effect, three consecutive days of tournament play would require most teams to send their No. 3 or 4 pitchers on the mound for the championship.

Nickell, who boasts a large baseball roster regardless of classification, is excited to develop more pitchers in his already deep rotation to accommodate a longer, more competitive season.

“We want to play those games so our kids get more time on the mound and develop as pitchers,” Nickell said. “My philosophy is ‘the only way to develop pitching is to pitch.’ Everybody on our team pitches, so I love it, it’s going to give us no choice but to use more pitchers.”

Hockey split into two classifications, 3 area teams to compete in most competitive league in Colorado

High School hockey will see another big change in its conference alignments in the 2020-21 season after approval to split the state’s hockey teams into two classes, voted on at last week’s CHSAA legislative council meeting.

The new classification system, which splits the state’s 37 teams into 5A and 4A, alters the league alignment for the second time since 2018.

According to a CHSAA release from the February hockey committee proposal, the new alignment considered “enrollment, geography, competitive history, competitive balance, participation rate, and the entry or selection process that places an athlete at a program.”

Palmer, Coronado, Cheyenne Mountain and Woodland Park will move to the Class 4A Metro League, which includes all area teams with the exception of Pueblo County. Air Academy, Liberty and Rampart will move to the 4A North division with Kent Denver, Colorado Academy and Mullen.

Lewis-Palmer, Doherty and Pine Creek will compete in the Class 5A South conference against Mountain Vista, Chaparral, Castle View and Valor Christian.

Doherty and Pine Creek have emerged as the area’s top programs and earned top-10 seeds and a first-round bye in the 2020 state tournament, and last year Lewis-Palmer earned its first postseason berth since 2016-17 under first-year coach Scott Bradley.

Though the three teams were arguably the most competitive in the Colorado Springs area last season, they will find themselves in one of the most menacing conferences.

The 5A South league will feature four teams that earned a top-10 seed last year, including the state’s reigning champion Valor Christian, which won the title in a five-overtime battle over No. 3 Fort Collins. Chaparral made it to the state semifinal as the No. 2 seed. The 5A Metro and North leagues have three top-10 teams each.

Other postseason changes coming in 2020-21

- Field hockey will move from an eight- to a 12-team postseason bracket in hopes of growing the sport. Palmer Ridge is the only area team to make it to the state playoffs since 2017 when the Bears faced Cheyenne Mountain in the first round on the way to the state championship.

- Class 4A and 5A boys’ lacrosse will increase its postseason bracket from 16 to 24 teams.

- Class 2A soccer will allow four additional teams to qualify for the state bracket, bringing the total to 16.

- Girls’ golf championships moved back to June 1, which will hopefully limit chances of encountering bad weather. The 2019 championships was plagued with bad weather, including rain and snow, which forced CHSAA to condense the two-day tournament to one.

- Boys’ swimming state championships will be moved up one week to give swimmers "their own spotlight." Previously state swimming and track and field occurred on the same weekend.