WESTMINSTER — Give a confident team an inch, and they're bound more often than not to take a mile.
The Monarch baseball team, riding a fine wave of momentum early in the season themselves, swallowed that tough pill on Tuesday afternoon in an intriguing Front Range League matchup at undefeated Mountain Range.
With two of the league's front-runners facing off with their respective aces occupying the mound, one might not find it too surprising that one inning was a big difference between a win and a loss for either team.
But after scoring a run and taking a lead in the top of the third against the Mustangs' Brayden Brooks, Monarch senior hurler Andrew Morris had a tough stretch trying to get a third out in the bottom of the frame, paving the way for a four-run rally for the Mustangs that served well in a 5-2 win for the hosts.
The Coyotes were able to square up for five doubles and seven total hits in the game, but Brooks also struck out 11 batters in just five innings of work and Brandon Rojas worked two innings for a save as Mountain Range improved to 3-0 in league and 10-0 on the season.
"It really boiled down to one inning, and we got two strikes on three batters in a row and just weren't able to bury them there," said Monarch coach Scott Weiss, whose team dropped to 6-3-1 overall, 2-1 in the FRL. "If you do, it's a completely different baseball game.
"Our team is confident, a much different team than last year. We came into this game with confidence, but Brooks did a good job to throw strikes."
Morris, a player Weiss was excited to see back in Monarch colors this year, has been a key player in the Coyotes' resurgence after a 2017 season that saw them win just seven games all year. Entering Tuesday, he was 3-1 with a 2.71 earned-run average, had allowed opponents just 16 hits in 20 innings pitched and had struck out 33 batters.
Along with those electric numbers, however, have come 16 walks issued, and on Tuesday it was five free passes that vaulted his pitch count and also led to the only lead Mountain Range would need.
Down to their final strike in the third inning off Morris, Mountain Range's Angelo Domenico doubled to bring home a run and tie things at 1-1, and then got free baserunners in the form of Ryan Trinkaus, Austin Mee and Braden Courter — the latter whose walk drawn brought in the go-ahead run.
Tristan Wolf made MoHi pay with a two-run single after that, forcing Monarch into a big hole against Brooks — who entered play carrying a 0.32 ERA and a 36-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
"Morris has great, great stuff but every once in a while he just gets in these spells where he has a hard time throwing a strike, but you have to hand to a team that puts the ball in play with two strikes when we didn't," Weiss said. "At times, he's gotten out of it but you can't count on getting out of it every time.
"He's our workhorse and he's going to be on the mound for all of our big games. He's young, a 16-year-old senior, who is still learning. You hope that those situations come up and he's able to get that third strike the next time out."
For their part, the Coyotes as a team have also been better at providing Morris with support than they did against the Mustangs. Back-to-back doubles from Luke Secunda and Luke Martin gave Monarch the 1-0 lead in the third, but the Coyotes stranded runners at second or third base in three different innings.
Martin drove home both of Monarch's runs, and Ben Kowalski had two hits in the loss.
Monarch plays host to Boulder on Thursday and travels to Greeley West on Saturday.
Mountain Range 5, Monarch 2
At Mountain Range HS
Monarch001 010 0 — 2 7 1
Mountain Range004 010 x — 5 7 1
W — Brooks. L — Andrew Morris. S — Rojas.
Monarch hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Ben Kowalski 4-1-2-0, Luke Secunda 4-1-2-0, Luke Martin 3-0-1-2, Nico Hartojo 1-0-0-0, Ben Cole 3-0-0-0, Ben Coatney 3-0-1-0, Andrew Morris 3-0-0-0, David Fish 2-0-0-0, Nate Leash 1-0-0-0, Noah Messman 2-0-0-0, Connor Crouch 1-0-1-0. 2B —Secunda 2, Martin, Coatney, Crouch. SB —Kowalski.
Mountain Range hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Polson 4-1-1-0, Hoffman 2-0-0-0, Domenico 4-1-1-1, Trinkaus 3-1-0-0, Mee 2-2-1-1, Courter 1-0-0-1, Wolf 3-0-2-2, Simmons 2-0-0-0, Ortega 3-0-2-0. 2B — Domenico, Ortega. HR —Mee. SB —Polson 2, Mee, Wolf.
Monarch pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Morris 4-6-5-5-5-5, Matt Garcia 1-1-0-0-1-0, Trevor Flynn 1-0-0-0-0-2.
Mountain Range pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Brooks 5-6-2-2-1-11, Rojas 2-1-0-0-0-0.