MONTROSE — Through 14 games earlier this season, the Montrose High School varsity baseball team and its relentlessly effective offense was unbeatable. That is, until Valor Christian came to Montrose, distracting the Indians long enough to squeeze out a 5-4 victory against them on the road April 20.
Like a small, deep cut on the lip, the Indians could not ignore this loss, or move on. It was particularly stinging because the victors displayed questionable sportsmanship.
The Valor Christian Eagles taunted the Indians with obscenities and foul language, both on the field and from their dugout. Head coach Landon Wareham repeatedly warned his team to "rise above” the vulgarities – something the Indians hadn’t experienced much of earlier in the season.
At times, Wareham barked at VC coach Keith Wahl, urging him to control his team; Wahl brushed the issue aside. As the Eagles departed the diamond that day, they directed their screams towards the Indians. Wareham’s team forced themselves to look away, showing a bit more poise than their coach.
"That's one thing we did, myself included. I took the bait. Some things were said, and I let it kinda affect me a bit and our kids and we've learned from it," Wareham said Monday during practice. "Whenever you play a great game, a great team, win or lose, you always draw from that and we've used that a couple of times.
After a week of practice, the Indians will travel over the mountains to face the Eagles yet again in a "do or die" playoff this Friday on the Front Range.
The Indians opened their playoff run last Saturday at home with a pair of wins over Woodland Park, 10-0, and Erie, 5-4, to propel them to the State 4A quarterfinals.
The Montrose (19-2), Valor Christian (14-6) game is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at Cherokee Trail High School, located at 25901 East Arapahoe Road in Aurora.
"They are a good team, a very good team. They are probably the number one team in the state, in least in our opinion. The good thing about them is that we've seen them, we know what they got, and we know what we have to do in order to beat them," Wareham said.
Senior shortstop Ben Cruz said he hopes the game will be a true representation of the high level at which the Indians are playing at this point in the season.
"I'm glad we get to try and get revenge on those guys because it was a close game here. It could have gone either way. We're going to make them prove that they’re better," Cruz said.
During Monday's practice, Cruz said, the team focused on improving their swings in order to better drive the ball through the batting zone. He explained that Coach Wareham was teaching his players to react more instinctively at the plate, and to make good split-second decisions on pitches. The strategy, hopefully, will translate into more hits.
"We're trying to drive the ball better, to move more runners," Cruz said. The only thing the team respects about the Eagles, he added, is their offensive ability: "We're going to have to play solid defense.”
Cruz said the team's seniors – Skylar Haynes, Jake Kastendieck, Brennan Woodruff and Garrett Zarkis – are ready to lead. The intensity of the game is something the Indians are looking forward to.
"The pressure always shows whether you’re good or not. And it's fun," he said.
According to Wareham, Skylar Haynes is slated to start against Valor Christian on the mound.
"We know what they are going to do, we know what they are about, how they are going to play, and it's our job not to take the bait. We’re going to strap it on and play our kind of baseball, and let them do what they do," he said.
The winner of the Montrose vs. Valor Christian game will face either Windsor or Mountain View.