Aspen’s Monge hurls shutout in playoff win
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Aspen senior ace Eddie Monge pitched a three-hit, complete game shutout to guide AHS to a 3-0 win over Olathe in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs Tuesday at the AHS field.
Second baseman Tyrone Gartner knocked in the game-winning run on a two-out bloop single in the second inning, and Jeff Brence and Pete MacKellar capped off a two-out rally in the sixth with RBI hits to give Monge a 3-0 cushion entering the top of the seventh, the final inning.
“I wanted to let them hit the ball, challenge ’em and let the defense do its job,” Monge said about the final three outs. “I have confidence in our defense. I can throw any pitch.”
In a game that lasted less than an hour and a half, Monge worked quickly and efficiently throughout, stopping Olathe batters 1-2-3 in the third and fifth innings. He finished with three strikeouts, and gave up two walks.
The top of the seventh inning wasn’t as easy. Monge got the first batter on a groundout to shortstop Josh Lackey, but the second hitter he faced crushed a line drive to left-center. Centerfielder Nick Farrell managed to cut the ball off before it bounced through the gap to hold the runner to a long single. The next batter flied out to Farrell in center, but the final out escaped Lackey’s mitt at shortstop for Aspen’s only error of the game.
With runners at first and second and two outs, Monge induced another timely grounder to MacKellar at third, who flipped to Brence at first to seal Aspen’s fourth straight victory and, more notably, its first state post-season win in at least seven years.
“Olathe came in and kicked our butts in the playoffs last year, so this is sweet,” said AHS coach Rick Ryan. “Those insurance runs were huge for us. We knew we could do it with Eddie pitching, but we needed run support and we got it.”
With the win, Aspen improved to 8-12 on the season. Olathe concluded its season at 10-10.
“It feels great,” said Lackey, the team’s top hitter for average in the regular season. “We’ve done well in the playoffs in every other sport, and now it’s baseball’s turn.”
On Friday, Aspen travels to face top-seed Rangely, a team that narrowly beat Aspen 5-4 in the regular season. At 16-3 on the season, Rangely earned a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
“They’re so tough, but I think mentally we’ll be able to compete because of that close game earlier this season,” Ryan said.
Monge, of course, will be on the mound.
“I want to keep it going,” the senior pitcher said. “It’s the last of my high school career and I don’t want it to end. We’re pretty close to playing the best we’ve ever played in my time here, but we still haven’t had that bust-out game. And I think it’s all going to come together pretty soon.”
Monge opened Tuesday’s game by issuing a walk to Olathe’s leadoff man Sean Northrup. Only five other Olathe players reached base afterward, three with base hits, one by error and another by walk.
In the second inning, Monge got the only run he would need for the win. Brence reached base on an error to leadoff the inning for Aspen, but MacKellar bunted foul a third strike for the first out and Pat Faurer popped up to the third baseman for the second. Then with two outs, catcher Stephen White ripped a single to left to advance Brence to second and set the table for Gartner. Gartner’s Texas-leaguer single to right scored Brence to give Aspen a 1-0 lead.
“The whole time we had one run, I knew it wasn’t enough,” Monge said. “We needed some insurance and we got it, luckily.”
The insurance rally came in the bottom of the sixth inning, after the most unlikely start. Farrell led off with a crisp single up the middle and Monge, up next, was attempting to bunt him over. Monge squared to bunt on the second pitch from Olathe’s Jon Boyd, but pulled off a ball high. Olathe catcher Cody Sweet immediately fired to first to pick off Farrell, caught well off the bag.
Monge came out swinging on the next pitch and crushed a triple over the right-fielder’s head, but Lackey couldn’t drive him in as he went down swinging. With two outs, Brence slapped an opposite-field single through the hole on the left side to score Monge, and then MacKellar made good with a double to right-center to score Brence from first and give Aspen the 3-0 lead.
The winner of Friday’s game vs. Rangley advances to round-robin play on Saturday.
“We’ve got nothing to lose,” Lackey said. “A lot of people didn’t expect us to win today, but we came through. I think we’re peaking right now; this was the best defensive effort today and I think that’s why we won. I think if we play tough defense [on Friday] we can pull it out.”
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