AURORA — Pomona might have been the first team eliminated from the Class 4A state tournament Friday morning at Aurora Sports Park, but just getting there was a huge accomplishment for the Panthers.

“It was an outstanding season,” Pomona’s first-year head coach Jeff Nealon said after the Panthers suffered a 16-1 loss to defending 4A state champion Lutheran in the opening round. “I couldn’t be happier with the girls and their hustle. They showed grit and determination all year.”

It was the first state appearance for Pomona since 2017, which was actually Nealon’s first year as an assistant coach under longtime head coach Jim Biddle. When Biddle retired from coaching after last season, Nealon — Pomona graduate and teacher — took over the helm this season.

Photo by Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Public Schools

Pomona finished the year with a 20-7 record to go along with the state appearance It was the first 20-win season for the Panthers in well over a decade.

Nealon had a veteran team this season with eight returning starters from last year’s squad that just missed out on qualifying for regionals with a 11-12 record.

“All our girls remembered that coming into the season,” Nealon said of the heartbreaking 3-2 loss to D’Evelyn late in the regular season that likely cost the Panthers a trip to regionals. “The feeling of the letdown of being so close. We fed off that all year.”

Pomona had to defeat Cheyenne Mountain twice last during the regional tournament that was actually hosted by D’Evelyn to make the state tournament. The Panthers edged the Red-Tailed Hawks 9-8 in the regional elimination game to punch their ticket to state for the first time in six years.

The Panthers will graduate six seniors from the squad that got Pomona back on the state map. However, Nealon will return starting pitchers Lizzie DeVries and Abby Stewart. Starting shortstop Lia Martinez will also be back for her senior year after leading Pomona in hits and runs scored this season.

“They played their butts off to get here,” Nealon said. “The girls coming back will have more experience now. The atmosphere here at state is different.”