Erie upsets Summit in playoffs to conclude monumental season

Cassius Bradford stands at the plate during Summit's senior day game against the Aspen Skiers on Tuesday, May 17. On Sunday, May 22, the Summit Tigers lost in the opening round of the 4A baseball regional playoffs to Erie High School, 15-0. The Tigers end their season with the most wins the program has had in close to 20 years with a record of 16-7.
Cody Jones/Summit Daily News

The Summit High School boys baseball team had all the momentum the team could ask for going into the Class 4A state baseball regional playoffs tournament.

The team had won out the remainder of its season since double header losses to Palisade on April 8. The Tigers notched 12 straight wins and beat the best record the program has seen in nearly 20 seasons. They ended the season 16-6.

After the team’s senior day game against Aspen, the team eagerly awaited its seed in the state playoffs and the region the team would be playing in.

During a meeting held by the Colorado High School Activities Association on Wednesday, May 18, Summit was awarded the 11th seed in the 32 team regional playoff tournament. The team was scheduled to play No. 22 Erie High School in the first round at Riverdale Ridge High School in Thorton.

The Tigers looked to continue on its winning streak, but the 17-7 Erie Tigers had other plans. The Erie Tigers went on a Cinderella story run of its own in region six of the playoffs.

In the first inning, the game looked like the teams were fair matches for one another as both Summit and Erie failed to score in the opening inning.

In the top of the second inning, Erie put points on the board as a run was brought in to give the team a 1-0 lead over Summit.

Summit attempted to get its bats going in the bottom of the second, but junior pitcher Ethan Dillinger for Erie made it hard for Summit to get hits. Dillinger sent pitch after pitch past the Tigers in the batter’s box.

It was in the third inning when the Erie Tigers really started to run away with the game. The team scored six runs off of a good batting performance and infield errors made by Summit.

Again in the bottom of the third, the Tigers attempted to respond but Dillinger continued to throw strikes.

“He came out yesterday and just shoved,“ head coach Patrick Stehler said of Dillinger. ”I think he had 100% first pitch strikes. His breaking ball was on, and he was constantly around the strike zone and made it difficult to hit.“

By the end of the game, Dillinger had nine strikeouts and allowed only one hit from Summit.

Erie continued to score in the fourth and fifth innings, scoring three runs in the fourth and five runs in the fifth to mercy-rule Summit after five innings in the opening regional round of the playoffs, 15-0.

“Zach Willms and Will Koll threw well against a lineup of really good bats, a couple of which are going Division I next year,“ Stehler said.

Zach Willms runs to second base during the Tigers senior day game against the Aspen Skiers on Tuesday, May 17. The Tigers beat the Skiers 16-2 for the teams 12th straight win.
Cody Jones/Summit Daily News

Erie went on to upset the No. 6 seed and Riverdale Ridge High School, 8-5. Erie will now advance to the final Class 4A state baseball playoff tournament bracket which will be composed of eight teams.

“Going into the game, we were all just trying to savor the moment. We knew we had had a great season and accomplished a lot, and we obviously wanted to win,” senior captain Jack Taylor said. “The outcome wasn’t what we wanted, but we knew that not all was lost. We had a great season and had something to be proud of.”

Despite the loss, Stehler feels like the team has gained playoff experience going into next season.

Stehler, who took the program over in 2018, also feels like the success of the Summit baseball team is a long time coming after him and his coaching staff of Coley Thompkins and Kevin Mitchell worked hard to establish a strong team culture the last five seasons.

With a young, hard working and invigorated staff around him, Stehler began setting the foundation of the program he wanted to build after taking the program over from longtime Summit baseball coach Tom Looby.

“A lot of it, and a pretty big challenge of building the team cultures, was getting our players to buy in to what our staff wanted to say,” Stehler said. “It took a couple years before we had a group of guys that bought in and really dedicated themselves to what we as a coaching staff were trying to do.”

This team culture was reflected this past season as a the team went on its historic 12-game winning streak run to clinch a playoff spot.

“We have all played with each other since we have been in kindergarten, and once we got to high school, especially with coach Patrick, we realized it was an attainable goal to play really good baseball in high school,“ Taylor said. ”He (Stehler) was the icing on the cake and helped us all become best friends — and better than friends, more like family.“

Jack Taylor makes a speech during Summit's senior recognition ceremony on Tuesday, May 17. Taylor spoke about how much of an impact the team has had on him over the last four years.
Cody Jones/Summit Daily News

With the 2022 season coming to a close, Stehler and the returners of the Summit boys baseball team, which includes five incoming seniors, are already looking forward to next season and hoping it will be just as historic as this season.

“I think more benefits came from making the playoffs then anything, and I think they will be hungry to return to the playoffs and get a couple wins next year,“ Stehler said.