Devils back in the postseason | VailDaily.com
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Devils back in the postseason

Ian Cropp
Vail, CO Colorado
SP EV BB Robert Padget TS 04-25-08
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GYPSUM ” For Eagle Valley baseball, today isn’t the first day of May, it’s the first day of October.

After a solid regular season, the Devils are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2002. While Major League Baseball kicks off the postseason in October, the Colorado baseball championships start Saturday.

In the 32-team bracket that came out Wednesday, 4A Eagle Valley drew the No. 25 seed and will face No. 8 Conifer at 10 a.m. at All Star Park in Lakewood.

“I can’t wait,” Eagle Valley senior pitcher Dan McKiernan said.

The Devils (9-5 in the Western Slope, 14-5 overall; 6-8 and 8-10 in the 2007 campaign), who closed out their regular season Tuesday with a 17-6 win over Coal Ridge, will be making their first appearance in the postseason as a 4A school, while Conifer (8-1 Jeffco, 12-7) will enjoy its first-ever playoff game.

Ken Reagan, the Eagle Valley skipper, knows his squad is up against a formidable opponent.

“They’ve got some very good pitching and very good hitters,” he said.

Conifer dropped only one game to a 4A school, with the rest of its losses coming to 5A schools or during the team’s spring break tournament in Florida.

“We set up our non-conference schedule ” going to Florida and 5A teams ” to prepare us,” said Conifer manager Jarod Nicholson. “I think we play a tough ” if not the toughest ” overall schedule, and hopefully that will have us ready for the playoffs.”

Aside from general statistics, the two squads know relatively little about each other as they only one common opponent (Summit).

“That’ the fun of high school baseball,” Nicholson said.

“The best thing we can do is go and have a mentality that it doesn’t matter who you are going to play,” Reagan said.

Conifer has scored an average of 11-plus runs in its league wins, and all of its starters have batting averages better than .250.

“Dan and I were talking, and we are sure they are going to hit no matter how we throw,” said Devils’ pitcher Hunter Blevins. “So we figure it’ll get done with our bats.”

The Eagle Valley bats have been hot as of late, albeit against some slower pitching.

“We’re using the pitching machines and hitting from short distances,” Blevins said. “The past games have got everyone’s confidence up and, that’s what we were lacking earlier in the year.”

Reagan said he’ll likely start McKiernan, the big lefty.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said McKiernan, whose arm should be well rested come Saturday. “I have to prepare myself. I just want to make sure my pitches are going to be located. That’s my top thing to do.”

Reagan said the rest of the lineup will look as it has the past few games, with the final three spots in the batting order to be game-time decisions. Nicholson’s lineup will feature a core group of seven returning seniors.

“I’m hoping we can get them started early,” Reagan said. “We have a tendency to wait a bit.”

While the Devils would certainly not like to fall behind early, they’ve proven that they can come from behind.

“We can’t let them get to our heads,” McKiernan said. “We have to know we’re going to win and play to win. We have to stay confident. It’s baseball, anything can happen.

The winner of the game will face the winner of the 12:30 p.m. matchup between No. 9 Greeley West and No. 24 Pueblo Central. If the Devils advance, Reagan will send Blevins to the mound.

Eagle Valley will practice today in Gypsum, then will practice Friday in Clear Creek from 2 to 3:30 p.m. before heading to Denver.

As the top seed in the district, Conifer earned the right to host Saturday’s games, but chose to play at All Star Park.

“It’s not our home field, but it’s an opportunity to get to play first two rounds at a real nice park,” said Nicholson, who described the park as a scaled-down version of Coors Field … Former Eagle Valley assistant athletic director Jeff Lueders, whose son Lars played for the Devils, is now the athletic director at Conifer. “I told him I’m going to need a scouting report,” Nicholson said …

Other Western Slope first-round matchups include No. 16 Palisade vs. No. 17 Evergreen, No. 19 Moffat County vs. No. 14 Longmont and No. 20 Delta vs. No. 13 Pueblo South. “Of those teams, I think Moffat County has the best overall bracket for the way they play, but you never know what will happen,” Reagan said.

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 970-748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.


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