Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
The goal was simple for the Dawson Mustangs this spring — get back to the Class 2A state tournament and make some noise.
Being one-and-done at the state tournament last May left a team with plenty of talent coming back eager for another shot at the title in 2019. An 8-2 start this year so far includes wins over top-10 teams Dayspring Christian Academy 3-2 and Longmont Christian 20-0, and the Mustangs are riding a season-high five-game winning streak to date.
Success has resulted in Dawson being ranked No. 2 in the Class 2A Baseball Polls from CHSAA this week, and now the expectations have grown even higher for the team entering the second half of the season.
Through 10 games, Dawson has kept pace with the numbers they put up in the 2018 season.
Head coach Joe McKenzie sees a pitching staff that is anchored by three starters in Conor Wolf, Donovan Muniz and Evan Moll. Wolf, a freshman, is leading the team with 19 ⅓ innings pitched and a 1.45 ERA with 29 strikeouts compared to five walks. Muniz has led the rest of the veteran staff with his 15 ⅓ innings of work and a 0.89 ERA, and Moll has pitched 11 innings in his two starts. Dawson also sees a relief core in Nate Berstein, Tucker Heroux and Brandon Day that has been effective at keeping leads late when called upon.
On offense, Dawson is currently hitting .292 as a team, just a few points behind their .299 average from last season. The lineup has balance up and down with six players hitting .300 or better, and those six have combined for 56 of the team’s 81 RBIs. The Mustangs also remain aggressive on the base paths with 44 stolen bases, already surpassing their total from last season. The combination of hitting and base running has resulted in 100 runs through 10 games.
A win in their home game with Front Range Christian on Monday could put Dawson on the path to an unbeaten conference record, but the team will still face high-level competition in Centaurus and Peak to Peak outside of their league in the second half of the season. With heightened expectations now, Dawson looks to handle those challenges and ride their recent wave of success towards a postseason run they hope will bring home a trophy.
Peak to Peak at the top of Class 3A Metro League
Nathan Poretz stole the show on Tuesday with one of the greatest single-game performances at the plate an athlete could have. In his first three at-bats, he was able to hit home runs in each. Kent Denver chose to intentionally walk him the fourth time he came to the plate but decided to try and get him out the fifth time. Instead, Poretz hit his fourth home run of the game to give him seven RBIs in a 22-8 victory.
Head coach Matthew Castilleja said he has never seen a four home run game by a player in person and called it an incredible feat, but he wasn’t surprised by his senior’s performance.
“He’s put in the work during his four years here,” Castilleja said. “He calls me to work in the batting cages He’s that type of kid. The case in point, after the Northern Colorado Classic, he didn’t feel comfortable so we met before driving to Eaton to hit in the cages, and he got locked in from there. It shows what you can do when you put the work in. He said (Tuesday) night that he was seeing the baseball great.”
The game from Poretz and Peak to Peak on Tuesday helped them win their third straight game and fourth league game this season. Sitting at 4-0 in the Class 3A Metro League, the Pumas have emerged as one of the early top-tier teams in their league, but plenty of tough league games remain on their schedule.
Castilleja feels his team is starting to string some good things together now that his players have had some time together on the field working on their swings and play in the field.
“We face a huge challenge in that 50 percent of our kids participate in basketball,” Castilleja explained. “Those kids play October through March, and during that time they are not in the cages, so we have to be innovative with these kids. I want them to focus on one sport at a time, but the transition from basketball to baseball does take time to adjust. We see it where they catch fire late in the season and that’s what you need to do.”
Castilleja added that playing multiple sports has helped his team in a big way this spring as well.
In his job, Castilleja works with numbers, so the coach uses data as a way to tell what his team still needs to work on entering the second half of the season. A couple key areas stand out so far, he says.
“Looking at the stats, our walk-to-strikeout ratio has to flip,” Castilleja said. “We have to have more discipline at the plate. And right now, our fielding percentage at 93 percent. We need that to be up to 98 percent. We are taking a look at those areas and trying to come up with solutions as a team.”
• The other team in the Class 3A Metro League currently without a loss in conference play is the Jefferson Academy Jaguars. Following a 6-3 win over Bishop Machebeuf on Tuesday, the Jaguars are 2-0 in conference and 4-1 overall this year. A steady lineup offensively sees the team hitting .306 overall, including four players hitting .400 or better. Kade Leuthauser leads the bunch at .545 and eight RBIs so far. The Jaguars have also been helped by a pitching staff comprised of juniors and seniors that boast a 5.05 ERA, with junior Pete Gardner sitting 2-0 and an ERA at 0.64.
• Outside of a blowout loss to University and a blowout win over Manitou Springs, Jefferson Academy has played in three close games decided by one, two and three runs. They have scored 41 runs and have surrendered 33 to their opponents. Experience in close games is something they hope will benefit them entering a tough second half of the schedule with games against Peak to Peak, Faith Christian and Colorado Academy still coming up.
• Longmont Christian, who came in ranked No. 7 in the CHSAA Class 1A Baseball Polls, will look to bounce back from back-to-back shutout losses to Dawson and Front Range Christian, where they gave up 29 runs in the two games. Sophomore Kyle Saunders leads the team with a .478 batting average and a 3.59 ERA in 25 ⅓ innings pitched on the mound. Daniel Vrooman, another sophomore, is hitting .450 through nine games. One trend the team hopes to continue is winning away from home as they have a 4-2 road record this season.
• Two teams looking to get back on track in the second half of the season are Prospect Ridge and Lyons. A strong start to the season from the pitching staff helped Prospect Ridge open the season with six consecutive wins, but the team has dropped five straight games since then and is 0-4 in conference play. For Lyons, they opened the season on a seven-game losing skid with five of them coming by 10 runs or more, but a high-scoring 27-17 win over Denver Christian on Tuesday has them looking to build off their first win moving forward.