On Friday, hopefully a warmer one, the Bears will face PPAC-busters Evergreen at All-State Park in the first round of the Class 4A state baseball playoffs.
Before that, however, Palmer Ridge will look to an old rival for help in the state playoffs.
Bears coach Steve Whiting said his team will need to take what they learned facing Lewis-Palmer pitcher Paul Tillotson earlier in the season in order to get ready for one of the best pitchers in the state, Cougars ace Brock Burke.
“We haven’t seen that Burke kid play but we’ve seen his numbers. We know he’s a great pitcher,” Whiting said. “What I’ve been told is he has a very good fastball and he has great off-speed pitches. Paul Tillotson is in that same mold. We need to go in facing (Burke) like we did with Paul.”
On Saturday, Evergreen (18-3), on its own field, beat Pikes Peak Athletic Conference teams Air Academy and Lewis-Palmer in the District 2 championships to move into the double-elimination, eight-team finale.
They’ll no doubt lean on Burke throughout. The University of Oregon commit has a 1.06 ERA and a 4-1 record, averaging two strikeouts an inning with 66 Ks in 33 innings. He’ll likely duel ace Jake Grubesic (1.75 ERA), who has led the Bears to eight victories in nine tries this season.
“Jake has been great for us. We have three pitchers who’ve been outstanding for us,” Whiting said. “At the plate, we need to give our guys some help. Against (Burke), we’ll tell them to sit on a pitch and take a hack when it comes. If you’re expecting fastball, wait for a fastball. We don’t want them swinging at curves if they are thinking fastball … unless they are down in the count.”
Palmer Ridge (15-6) comes into the state playoffs with game experience against only one state tournament team, Valor Christian, which the Bears lost to 13-6 last month. The Bears had four errors and gave up eight runs in the final two innings of that game.
Since then, Whiting’s bunch has rolled off five wins in a row and committed only one error in its district games against Erie and Coronado.
And after four of the five top seeds in Class 4A were eliminated in districts, Whiting said: “We feel confident as any team out there. We like our chances just as much as anyone.”
Now all they need is some sun to dry their home field, which was buried in snow Sunday.
“We need to practice outside to get ready for Evergreen,” Whiting said. “That’s not a game you want to have limited practice going into.”
Brent W. New, The Gazette
Twitter: @brentwnew @gazettepreps