PEYTON — For the first time this season, the Peyton baseball team played the role of the underdog.
But only for a half-inning.
The Panthers, who have overwhelmed teams with double-digit blowout wins, found themselves in a hole on a cold Friday afternoon on their own baseball field. They were behind a run in the third inning against Cornerstone Christian Academy, the top-ranked team in Class 1A that has beaten opponents from higher classifications.
"We know we're good but we have to show it," Peyton's Rodney Gregg said.
The senior's three-run home run in the bottom of the third did more than propel the Panthers to a 5-2 win. It also sent a clear message: This team can come back and win despite the circumstances.
"That's the first time we've been behind all year," said coach Kelly Nickell, whose Panthers boast a 10-0 record. "I was very curious to see how we'd react. We stayed poised and came back and had a big inning and scored four runs."
Cornerstone Christian (11-1) got on the scoreboard first, thanks to the Panthers giving up a run on two hits and one error in the top of the third. But Peyton responded, starting with an RBI double by senior Jaeden Meyers to tie it up at 1-1.
"We knew we had to hit everything hard," Meyers said. "We knew this was a good team and we knew we had to battle. You just have to go up there and hit balls hard and put them in play and hope things kind of fall your way."
Then, Gregg stepped up to the plate.
He smacked his long ball to center field, clearing the bases and giving the Panthers a 4-1 lead. Cornerstone Christian put up another run in the sixth — on a stolen base — but Peyton again responded.
This time, senior Trevor Walker hit an RBI double to keep the Panthers safely ahead.
Senior Rupert Shaw threw four innings with five strikeouts before Gregg came in. Gregg struck out two batters in relief.
This was a big game for the Panthers, who look to return to the state title game. Last year, top-ranked Peyton advanced to the Class 2A championship but suffered an 8-6 heartbreaker to No. 3 Paonia.
So far this season, the Panthers have proven they're the team to beat.
Before Friday, all their wins were by double digits and shutouts. The close victory was a nice precursor to what's next, Peyton's Nickell said, considering the Panthers will face teams that could give them a challenge.
Next week, Peyton will play rival Calhan (9-2) twice and Evangelical Christian (5-4). A week later, they'll face Front Range (7-1) — a team that lost to Cornerstone Christian.
"We've got three or four tough opponents," Nickell said. "And that'll be good for us, too."