Alex K.W. Schultz
Special to Colorado Community Media
The Chaparral-Ponderosa baseball game on April 17 at Eaton Field was close through the first two innings.
Then the third and fourth innings happened.
More specifically, Chaparral's Brayden Munroe happened. And Tanner Donner happened. And a bevy of Ponderosa mishaps happened.
What it all amounted to was a 15-4 win for the Chaparral Wolverines in what was both teams' 5A Continental League opener. The game was called after four and a half innings due to the mercy rule.
“As the defending [5A Continental League] champs, I felt like we needed to come out and send a message, and I think we did that,” Wolverines coach Alan DiGiosio said.
The message wasn't sent against a pushover, either. It was sent against the back-to-back Class 4A state champion Ponderosa Mustangs, who went 23-7 overall last year and outscored their four playoff opponents 57-11 en route to the state title.
Of course, that was 2022. This is 2023, and this year's Ponderosa squad is young — five freshmen and a sophomore started against the Wolverines, who are ranked No. 5 in Colorado. Ponderosa's youth reared its head in an ugly way, too, as the Mustangs committed 10 errors in the game.
“We have to get better,” Ponderosa coach Bob Maloney said. “We're better than we played today, so it's our job as coaches to try to get these guys there.”
In a game chock-full of Chaparral highlights, Munroe provided the biggest one in the bottom of the fourth inning.
With the bases loaded and the Wolverines already leading 11-2, Munroe drove a 2-2 fastball over the centerfield fence for a grand slam — the senior's third home run of the season.
Munroe finished 2-for-4 with four RBIs. He also scored three times.
“I knew a fastball was coming,” said the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Munroe, who is committed to play both baseball and football at the University of Northern Colorado. “[Ponderosa pitcher Tyler Pfirrmann] had already thrown three fastballs that were on the outside half of the plate, and I was just trying to fight him off a little bit. I was waiting for something inner-half, and I definitely got that. I was ready for it.”
DiGiosio praised Munroe for his discipline at the plate and for his desire to play at 100%, even as his team had established a comfortable lead.
“You think about the situation — the game's kind of out of hand at that point,” DiGiosio said. “It's really easy for a player to give in and swing at a pitch that they're not ready for or not wanting to swing at. He fouled a couple pitches off, and then he got into one. And that speaks to his approach at the plate and really his professionalism, right? `You have to get us out.' Baseball's a game where there's no clock that's going to run out. You still have to put the ball over the plate and you have to make an out. We're not just going to lie down because we're up by nine. We're going to keep playing, and we expect the same (from our opponents) as well.”
Earlier in the inning, Donner blasted a two-run, opposite-field home run over the right-field fence to give the Wolverines a 9-2 lead and chase Mustangs starting pitcher Ty Morse.
Three batters later, Logan Manuello belted an RBI double off the base of the left-centerfield fence. Manuello later scored when Cole Jenkins drew a bases-loaded walk, setting up Munroe's bases-clearing jack.
Donner went 2-for-4 at the plate with three RBIs while Manuello finished 2-for-3 and knocked in a run. The two combined to score five times.
“(In practice), we try to hit all aspects of all different phases of the game,” DiGiosio said. “Our coaches are awesome. You're not going to find a more professional and more knowledgeable staff. The kids who come here are going to get coached in all different phases. Hopefully it's starting to show.”
After Ponderosa's (6-6, 0-1) Gabe Jacobs grounded into a fielder's choice to knot the score at 2-apiece in the top of the third, Chaparral (8-1-1, 1-0) broke the game open in the bottom half of the inning.
The Wolverines scored five times in the inning to take a 7-2 lead. However, four of the five runs were the result of Ponderosa errors.
Getting the lone RBI in the inning was Derek Ball, who ripped a double to left centerfield to score Donner. Ball finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a run.
“Sometimes it takes us a second to get going, but we're a great-hitting team and we expect to score a lot of runs, and that's kind of what happened,” Munroe said. “It took us a couple innings, but we eventually got it done.”
For Ponderosa, Jacobs accounted for all four of the team's RBIs, grounding into a pair of fielder's choices and hitting a two-run homer in the fifth inning. Bryce Robinette went 2-for-3 with a first-inning triple while Max Mervin finished 1-for-3.