COLORADO SPRINGS, CO – MAY 26: Goldens Demons pitcher Laif Palmer pitching against the Summit Tigers during the first round of the 4A State baseball championships at Cheyenne Mountain High School May 26, 2023. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
COLORADO SPRINGS — On a mound on a mountain, Laif Palmer made pitching at elevation look like an art form Friday.
The Golden right-hander dominated Summit in the Demons’ 9-0 win to open the Class 4A state tournament at Cheyenne Mountain High School. Palmer, perhaps the most projectable Colorado prep arm heading into July’s MLB Draft, racked up 11 strikeouts over six shutout innings.
Among the local pitchers who might be drafted — Palmer, Douglas County’s Max Stanley, Eaton’s Tate Smith, Faith Christian’s Carson Jasa and Douglas County’s Hunter Gotschall — Golden’s star has drawn the most interest. In fact, he’s drawn the most interest of any player in the state minus Eaton shortstop Walker Martin, who is ranked as the nation’s No. 41 overall draft prospect by MLB Pipeline.
“He’s the best pitcher in the state,” Golden coach Jackie McBroom said. “And not only is he the best pitcher in the state, he’s going to get a lot better.”
On Friday, Palmer’s repertoire looked equal parts dominating and polished. His fastball ran 93 to 95 mph on both sides of the plate, in conjunction with a sweeper-like slider (82-84) and changeup (83-85). He commanded each pitch while racking up all those Ks, and nearly every Summit hitter was overpowered as the Tigers managed only three hits.
Meanwhile, Golden slugger Noah Wicks led the Demons on offense against Summit, blasting his 15th homer of the year. The three-run jack broke open the game in a five-run fourth inning. The left-handed-hitting catcher now has 39 RBIs and 1.212 slugging, while Demons third baseman Jaydon Hord has nine homers and an .815 slugging.
The 24 homers between Wicks and Hord is the most by any two teammates in the state as the three-hitter Wicks (Hutchinson Community College commit) and cleanup Hord (Santa Barbara Community College), in conjunction with Palmer’s arm, powered Golden’s fourth state tournament appearance over seven seasons under McBroom.
“We feed off of each other’s energy,” Wicks said of Hord. “And then we feed off our team’s energy, because we can feel (their support) from the dugout. We’ve just been helping keep each other on a roll all year long.”
Friday’s opener against Summit was just one game in a two-weekend tournament, but Golden looked the part of a championship-caliber team with ace pitching, power hitting and clean defense as the Demons aim for their second 4A title and first in 20 years.
Palmer is focused on that championship pursuit, despite the hoard of scouts who have trailed him all season as he’s racked up an 8-0 record with a 1.83 ERA. All 30 MLB teams have scouted the 6-foot-6, 200-pounder, and about five teams are seriously interested, although the Rockies are not one of those clubs.
If he’s picked high enough and if the signing bonus money is there when the MLB Draft rolls around July 9-11, the Oregon State pledge could forgo college to start his pro career.
“I’m focused on this right now — this team, this run,” Palmer said. “The main goal right now is to go win state, and everything else is secondary.”
McBroom said the rest of his team is equally as focused on “getting the monkey off their back” by advancing to next weekend’s Final Four for the first time in his tenure. In the Demons’ second-round game on Friday at Cheyenne Mountain, they fell to top-seeded Holy Family 8-5, so they’ll have to rally on Saturday to realize that goal.
Holy Family now plays in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. semifinals at UCCS, where a win would put them in the driver’s seat of the double-elimination tournament heading into next weekend. Holy Family takes on Severance, while Golden is now in the consolation bracket. The Demons play the winner of Cheyenne Mountain/Riverdale Ridge at noon Saturday at UCCS, with the winner advancing to next weekend.
“Last year we showed up to the state tournament and laid an egg,” McBroom said. “I really believed we were one of the top teams in the state last year, so it’s been a reminder to these guys all year that just getting to the state tournament isn’t enough. That’s been their motivation this year, and they’ve all bought in.”
Class 4A State Tournament Bracket
Class 5A State Tournament Bracket