Ace pitcher Laif Palmer — 6-foot-6 hard-throwing righty — lifted the Class 4A Jeffco League baseball championship plaque high above his head celebrating with teammates May 13 on Golden’s home diamond.
“I just feel great right now about winning that league championship,” Palmer said after his shutout performance on the hill against Green Mountain in an 11-0 victory in five innings. “It feels good to be on top, sweeping everyone in Jeffco. It gives us a lot of momentum going into playoffs for sure.”
Golden completed a 9-0 conference record in 4A Jeffco with a dominating 11-0 victory in 5 innings over Green Mountain (15-8, 7-2). It’s the third straight league title for the Demons that have a 31-2 conference record of the last three seasons.
“100 percent,” Golden coach Jackie McBroom said when asked if he liked the way his Demons (19-4, 9-0) finished off winning the league title in a winner-take-all situation. “Green Mountain is a good baseball team. Winning 11-0, we did a great job. It was an all around great game.”
After Palmer worked around a first-inning leadoff walk to keep the Rams off the scoreboard, Palmer’s battery mate jumpstarted the Demons’ offense in a big way in the bottom of the first inning.
Senior catcher Noah Wicks belted a solo home with two outs to start what would be a 4-run rally all with two outs off Green Mountain starting junior pitcher Jackson Prosser.
“I was just trying to get on base so we could let Jaydo (Jaydon Hord) and Braeden (McCarroll) do their job and score me in somehow,” Wick said. “Turns out I hit a home run, which was really helpful. I think that changed the game for us.”
Wicks extended his school record of home runs in a single season with a dozen with the blast over the centerfield fence.
“I was excepting to hit three or four,” Wicks said of his power numbers heading into the season. “Over the off-season I worked hard and got my swing dialed in. It has helped me out tremendously.”
The bottom of the first inning kept going with back-to-back walks to Hord and McCarroll. Sophomore Luca Casali looped an RBI double down the left-field line to score Hord. Senior Daine Hart hit a deep fly ball to left field that looked to be caught, but was dropped to allow two more Demons runs to give Golden an early 4-0 lead.
“I didn’t want (Green Mountain) to feel they were in the baseball game,” McBroom said. “We wanted to put it on them as quick as we can and take the momentum of the game. We wanted to set the tone early.”
The Rams were coming off a pair of huge come-from-behind league victories against D’Evelyn and Evergreen to get in position to grab the conference title away from the Demons.
However, after a 1-2-3 inning by Palmer in the top of the second inning the Demons batted around in the bottom of the second. Junior Kohei Shimada started the inning with a single and would score on a wild pitch. Hord, Casali and Hart all knocked in runs to give Golden a 9-0 lead.
“Luca was huge for us,” Wicks said of Casali’s two RBI hits in the first two innings to help push the lead to 9-0. “He wasn’t a starter at the beginning of the season. The last three or four games he has been starting and has been huge for us.”
Green Mountain senior John Lord Jr. broke up Palmer’s no-hit bid in the third inning, but Palmer racked up his sixth strikeout to end the threat.
McCarroll gave the Demons a double-digit lead with a 2-run single with two outs off Lord who had come in relief on the mound in the second inning for the Rams.
“I think we are playing our best baseball right now,” McBroom said. “The thing that I’m happy about is on the backend of our schedule we’ve had a pretty competitive schedule. Every game has meant something for a while, so I’m happy about that.”
Over the last two weeks, Golden swept 2-game sets against D’Evelyn and Evergreen before facing rival Wheat Ridge and then ending the regular season against Green Mountain. The Demons are on a 16-game winning streak heading into the playoffs.
Palmer worked around singles by senior Jacob Barmore, sophomore Caden Kelly and Lord in the final two innings to keep the shutout in tact. Palmer has pitched complete-game victories in his last three starts against D’Evelyn, Evergreen and Green Mountain and has 92 strikeouts on the season in 52 innings pitched.
“As far as I’m concerned he is,” McBroom said of Palmer being the best pitcher in the state. “I know when he is on I don’t know if there is anybody else better in the state of Colorado.”
Golden — No. 4 in the CHSAA Selection & Seeding Index — can turn its attention to the regional tournament that the Demons will host this week starting on either Friday or Saturday, May 19 or 20.
“I would say regionals is a little bit more stressful,” Wicks said of comparing the single-elimination format for regionals to the double-elimination format for state.
Two victories in regionals will advance Golden to the 8-team double-elimination state tournament that begins Friday, May 26.
“We have been just doing our jobs,” Palmer said of the Demons’ pitching staff that is so important heading into the postseason. “Wicks and McCarroll have been pitching great as well that really helps as well. It leaves me with being able to have a week between starts. I come out feeling good to go. I feel electric.”
Dennis Pleuss is the sports information director for Jeffco Public Schools. For more Jeffco coverage, go to CHSAANow.com.