DENVER – The Erie baseball team hasn’t been to the state tournament in consecutive seasons since the Tigers were in Class 3A.

That’s no longer the case.

On Saturday at Denver East High School, the No. 14-seed Tigers defeated 19th-seeded Pueblo East, 6-2, and got past No. 30-seed Niwot 5-1 in the District 7 Tournament finals, to secure back-to-back appearances in the 4A’s eight-team state tournament.

“We went to a few Final Fours when we were 3A and a few state championship games,” Tigers head coach Harold Simmons said. “Then we grew as a school and it’s take a lot of people putting in a lot of hard work. We were on the cusp a few times leading up to last year. Then last year, we obviously did it, and to do it again this year is really special.”

In Game 1 of the District 7 Tournament, the Tigers (14-7) watched as lower-seeded Niwot (8-13) dismantled No. 3 Denver North (18-2), the host team, 10-3.

Senior starter Ford Ladd held Denver North to three runs over seven innings while the Cougars lineup went crazy. Scoring 10 runs on nine hits, including home runs from Skyler Messinger and Christian Cloar, and a grand slam from Tyler Meek.

In Game 2, the Tigers rode starter Ruben Portillo’s complete game to the district title game.

“We knew Pueblo East would grind and battle, I mean they’re a 3A state football champ so they’re not just going to roll over for you,” Simmons said. “They jumped out on us 2-0 but Ruben pitched great in that first game. It was good to grind that one out.”

Despite their low seed, the Cougars’ first-round explosion came as no surprise to Simmons. But starter Victor Villa was able to cool the Cougars’ bats in his five innings of work. Portillo returned to pitch the final two innings.

“To be honest, we expected to see Niwot there,” Simmons said. “Coming out of the Northern, that’s obviously a tough league. They’re a good team but we were able to get out of trouble two or three times. We got to the point where we could bring Ruben in to close it and it came down to his last hitter because he was right at the pitch count for the day so he was going to have to come out whether he got that last out or not.

“Having our Game 1 starter come back and close is not something we’re dying to do but this week and next week are the only times you’re going to do that.”

The 4A state tournament will begin on May 20.

Brad Cochi: or

Game 1

Erie 6, Pueblo East 2

At Denver North H.S.

Pueblo East
200 000 0 — 2 4 4

104 001 0 — 6 5 2

W — Ruben Portillo. L — Trevor Pacheco.

Pueblo East hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Isaiah Torres 2-1-0-0, Jeremiah Arellano 3-0-1-0, Andrew Vigil 3-1-0-0, Colton Martin 3-0-1-0, Jaycee Martinez 2-0-1-1, Josh Tellez 1-0-0-0, T.J. Golob 3-0-0-0, Andrew Archuletta 2-0-0-0, Donavin Ada 3-0-1-0, Tory Koshak 3-0-0-0. Totals 25-2-4-1. SB — Martinez.

Erie hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Josh Crites 3-2-2-0, Zach Elliston 3-1-1-0, Clint Allen 3-1-0-0, Nick Gavit 3-1-2-1, John Mirabassi 0-1-0-0, Luke Conilogue 3-0-0-0, Matt Sorenson 3-0-0-1, Joe Milner 0-0-0-0, Victor Villa 3-0-0-0, Ruben Portillo 3-0-0-0, Ryley Deckert 2-0-0-0. Totals 26-6-5-2. 2B — Gavit 2. SB — Crites, Allen.

Pueblo East pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Trevor Pacheco 6-5-6-0-0-4.

Erie pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Ruben Portillo 7-4-2-1-1-1.

Game 2

Niwot 10, Denver North 3

At Denver North H.S.

003 304 0 — 10 9 0

Denver North
000 030 0 — 3 8 2

W — Ford Ladd. L — Jose Pepe Robles.

Niwot hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Jacob Sims 3-3-1-0, Joseph Wilson 4-2-2-1, Skyler Messinger 3-2-3-4, Ford Ladd 2-1-0-0, Joey Neve 0-0-0-0, Tyler Meek 4-1-1-4, Hunter Stephens 3-0-1-0, Christian Cloar 4-1-1-1, Michael Agado 4-0-0-0, Zachary Morgan 3-0-0-0, Romey Clement 1-0-0-0. Totals 31-10-9-10. 2B — Messinger, Wilson. HR — Cloar, Meek (grand slam), Messinger. SB — Sims.

Denver North hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Harris Williams 4-0-0-0, Christian Robles 3-0-1-0, Judah Wilbur 2-1-1-0, Carlos Sanchez 3-1-1-0, Gabe Gurrola 3-1-1-1, Jose Pepe Robles 3-0-2-0, Adrian Falasco 3-0-0-0, Chris Perez 3-0-2-1, Alberto Gonzalez 2-0-0-1. Totals 26-3-8-3. 2B — Jose Pepe Robles.

Niwot pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Ford Ladd 7-8-3-3-2-5.

Denver North pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Jose Pepe Robles 3.2-8-6-6-2-5, Gabe Gurrola 3.1-1-4-0-3-1.

District 7 championship

Erie 5, Niwot 1

At Denver North H.S.

000 010 0 — 1 4 2

200 102 0 — 5 7 0

W — Victor Villa. L — Tyler Meek.

Niwot hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Jake Sims 4-0-1-0, Joe Wilson 4-0-0-0, Syler Messinger 3-1-1-0, Ford Ladd 3-0-1-0, Tyler Meek 4-0-1-0, Hunter Stephens 3-0-1-0, Christian Cloar 1-0-0-0, Joey Des Enfants 0-0-0-0, Michael Agado 3-0-0-0, Zach Morgan 0-0-0-0. Totals 21-1-4-0. 2B — Sims. SB — Sims 2, Messinger 2, Morgan.

Erie hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Josh Crites 2-0-0-0, Zach Elliston 3-0-0-0, Clint Allen 2-2-1-0, Nick Gavit 2-2-1-1, Luke Conilogue 3-1-3-1, Matt Sorenson 2-0-1-1, John Mirabassi 0-0-0-0, Victor Villa 2-0-0-0, Ruben Portillo 2-0-0-0, Ryley Deckert 1-0-0-0, Hunter Nelson 1-0-1-0. Totals 20-5-7-3. 2B — Gavit. SB — Conilogue, Allen, Mirabassi.

Niwot pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Tyler Meek 6-7-5-3-4-3.

Erie pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Victor Villa 5-4-1-0-5-4, Ruben Portillo 2-1-0-0-2-2.