PUEBLO - Peyton's baseball team had not felt the sting of defeat since March 24 - that was, until its seventh-inning rally in the 2A state championship game against Paonia fell just short.
Trailing by six runs heading into the bottom of the seventh, Peyton put together a four-run comeback, but a strikeout with two men in scoring position ended the Panthers’ impressive winning streak in an 8-6 loss to Paonia.
But don’t worry, the Peyton baseball team (22-2) will be back.
With just two seniors on its roster, Peyton’s best players will be back in red and white next year with eyes on the state championship trophy.
“The mentality is we’re going to win this next year,” Peyton junior Rupert Shaw said. “There’s no way we’re not coming back and when we do we are coming back with a vengeance.”
Jaden Miller played hero for the Eagles, smacking a two-run home run in the top of the first and later registering the final strikeout in the seventh after pitching a complete game in Paonia’s 7-2 semifinal victory against Dayspring Christian on Saturday morning.
“They came out and hit that home run early, and we didn’t make some plays later on and that ended up being the difference,” Peyton coach Kelly Nickell said. “But they fought until the last strike.”
Paonia’s defense set the tone early, turning double plays to end the first, second and third innings, while Peyton had runners in scoring position.
Despite a strikeout to kick off the bottom of the seventh inning, Peyton put together its rally thanks to a double by Austin Hermes, the Panthers’ lone senior in the batting order. Brandon Hussey hit a single, and Jaeden Meyers was walked to set up Rodney Gregg, who hit a two-RBI double. A sacrifice fly by Rupert Shaw brought another run across before AJ Strobel hit a blooper to center, and Brennen Meyers doubled to right to bring the game-tying run to the plate.
Queue Jaden Miller.
Miller battled in a long final at-bat with Josh Gonzales, but ultimately registered a strikeout, tossed his hat and glove in the air and was bombarded by Eagle players.
“This year we had been tested at times where last year we hadn’t, so we seemed to actually relax in that seventh inning,” Nickell said. “I said just get on base. Down 8-2 we can’t hit a six-run home run, so we needed runners on base and just take it one hit at a time.”
Paonia’s ace, KJ Seriani, was unavailable to pitch in the 2A semifinal and championship game due to a Tommy John injury, but the Eagle bullpen took care of business.
“We have a couple pitchers who don’t get to throw a whole lot because we are so deep on the mound,” said Paonia coach Nate Miller. “That injury was tough and we feel bad for KJ but he will bounce back. The boys really rallied around him.”
Peyton loses just one senior in its batting order - designated hitter Austin Hermes - and with a large class of rising freshman, the Panthers are in good position for another successful season.
"We lose Austin which will be huge, but we have everyone else back and we actually have a huge 8th grade class that will be freshman next year," Nickell said. "I saw a couple of them standing at the fence and I told them that I expect them to be back here the next four years."