PUEBLO – Peyton’s fortunes rose and fell in the same fateful inning as it was denied a shot at an unconventional repeat in 2A baseball.
The Panthers scored five times in their half of the fifth to build a three-run lead, but Limon answered with five in the bottom half of the inning and finished a perfect season with an 11-7 victory in the championship game at Rawlings Field at CSU-Pueblo.
“I thought we had it,” said Peyton coach Kelly Nickell, an elementary teacher who became emotional in a postgame interview Saturday when discussing the five seniors on the team who he had in class when they were 7. “We had nine outs go to.
“It’s just a special group.”
This group of Peyton seniors played in three championship games, losing the title game in 2018 and winning a championship in 2019. In 2020 there was no state tournament because of COVID-19. That brought them to this game with a chance to win consecutive 2A tournaments played two years apart.
The first inning proved almost as damaging as the fifth. Limon committed two errors in that opening frame but the Panthers failed to capitalize. And worse, shortstop A.J. Lashley injured his thumb on a slide into second base on a play in which he was thrown out trying to advance. The injury prompted Peyton to move Lashley from shortstop to second base to prevent him from making long throws and he bunted in his final two plate appearances because he couldn’t swing the bat.
That’s the player at the most important defensive position on the infield and a .567 hitter essentially neutralized against a Limon team that entered with a 19-0 record.
Still, Peyton was very much in it. An RBI single from Evan Neumaier in the third inning cut an early Limon lead to 3-1. Then came the fifth, where Brennen Meyers drove in a run with a triple, Chance Claman had an RBI single and three more runs came in on a fielder’s choice, wild pitch and errant throw to the pitcher and Peyton went ahead 6-3.
At that point, Nickell pulled Meyers — a starter in all three championship games in the past four years for the Panthers — from the mound. A succession of three relievers — C.J. Lashley, Logan Nickell and Neumaier — combined to, all in the fifth inning, hit two batters, walk two and give up two doubles and two singles.
Meyers said he had more left in the tank, but he noted the pitching change wasn’t his call.
“Our strength is our pitching,” Nickell said. “Brennen had been pitching well, but I had so many pitchers I did not want to keep Brennen in too long with the arms we had. Limon just came out and hit the ball.”
Limon added three more runs in the sixth in a rally that began with two outs and nobody on base. Jordan Rockwell provided a run-scoring double in the inning and the freshman catcher finished 3 for 4 with two doubles, a triple, three RBIs and three runs scored.
“We just keep working hard every week,” said Rockwell, who also plays football and basketball and ran in a 4x800-meter relay Thursday at state track. “Stay humble and play our game.”
The teams each had 12 hits, but Limon (20-0) hitters struck out just three times as they kept the ball in play and applied pressure to Peyton's defense, which committed three errors.
The only losses this year for Peyton (17-2) came against Limon.
“I definitely would have liked to have won one more here,” Meyers said. “But it’s awesome, getting to three (championship games). Most people never have that opportunity. I’m just blessed to be able to play in the game. This was definitely a fun run going through this.”