Despite missing out on the playoffs for a third consecutive year, the Woodland Park High School baseball team enjoyed a successful season in 2012.
“We were disappointed that we didn’t make the playoffs, but not at all with how we went about doing what we wanted to do,” said junior catcher Evan Lays. “We expected a lot out of ourselves, and we gave it our all.”
The Panthers’ playoff dreams were shattered on April 28 when they lost to Widefield 12-4 in the Class 4A Metro League finale. It was the third time in as many years that Widefield knocked Woodland Park out of postseason contention.
But the Panthers bounced back by winning two of three games in the Crossover Tournament, including a 17-7 victory over Vista Ridge on May 5 to close out the season. Woodland Park was 8-11 overall, 4-3 in league.
“We never really slumped, but we never really peaked,” said senior outfielder Louis Neil. “I thought our varsity was more of a family than in years past.”
The Panthers got out of the gate slow, losing their first five games, six of seven, under first-year head coach Cliff Richardson. But things turned around with the start of league play when they won three of four games, including a dramatic 9-8 walk-off victory over Discovery Canyon on April 10.
“That was our perfect game,” Richardson said. “Our pitching was on. We hit the ball. We put together a full game in that game.”
The most disappointing loss may have come three days earlier (April 7) when Lewis-Palmer scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to defeat the Panthers 5-4.
“We had two outs and two strikes on Lewis-Palmer and couldn’t put them away,” Richardson said. “We played a great game. We just left too many runners on base.”
All three of Woodland Park’s league losses were to playoff teams; Widefield, Lewis-Palmer and Cheyenne Mountain. Discovery Canyon also made the playoffs.
“We played a lot of close games,” Richardson said. “It seemed like we were just inches away a lot of the time. The beginning of the year we didn’t get the clutch hits. As the season went along our offense was much better.”
Senior Riley Billings ended up taking the team batting title with a .404 average. Neil was next at .382, including a team-leading three home runs, 17 RBIs and three triples. Senior shortstop and leadoff hitter Zach Allen was third in batting at .352, and led the team in runs scored (25), walks (14) and stolen bases (13).
Other key contributors were Lays (.288, one home run, nine RBIs), sophomore Logan Watters (.341), junior Jeremy Gwinn (.333), senior Eric Merizon (.324) and senior Colter Streck (.333. 1, 7). Streck was also the team’s top pitcher, posting a 3-2 record and a 5.10 ERA.
Lays, Watters, Gwinn and Max Levy will be the core of next year’s club.
“We have a lot of potentially good sophomores coming up,” Lays said. “I think we’ll be decent next year. Next year will be one of our best years in a long time.”