The Bulldogs came to Cortez swinging.
Dove Creek wasn't intimidated on the diamond against the 4A host Panthers on a balmy Thursday afternoon.
Three first inning hits and an RBI double from Klancey Krafka gave the 1A Bulldogs an early 1-0 lead. Dove Creek had sent a message to Montezuma-Cortez High School.
The two teams indeed played a tough seven innings on the first day of the M-CHS Invitational at McAndrew Field.
An RBI triple by Panthers' first baseman Gerardo Martinez tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the first.
The Panthers scored three more runs and held on for a 4-2 win in their season opener.
But it wasn't easy.
"Their hitting was very good," said first-year Panthers coach Matt Betts. "They came out, they put the bat on the ball, they made us make plays. I think we were set on our heels in the first inning by the way they came out."
Dove Creek (1-1) out hit M-CHS (1-0) by an 8-6 count.
However, the Panthers were able to capitalize on a huge mistake by the Bulldogs.
With one out in the bottom of the third, M-CHS led 2-1 when second baseman Kevin Morales grounded out to first. It appeared Dove Creek would secure the double play and get out of the inning when Krafka tagged first base and threw to second for what would be the third out.
There was just one problem - no one for the Bulldogs was covering second base.
Krafka's throw rolled into the outfield and Tallon Ralstin was safe at second, while Martinez ran home and scored for M-CHS.
Now up 3-1, Raudy Castillo sent Ralstin home the next at bat with an RBI single and the Panthers led 4-1. Those two third inning runs proved to be the difference in the game.
"We had a double play here at first, we threw to second and our shortstop wasn't covering. That goes down as a physical error," Bulldogs coach Ken Soper said. "If it wasn't for that error, they wouldn't have scored. We got to work on them mental mistakes."
Dove Creek cut the deficit in half, scoring a run in the fourth. The Bulldogs threatened in the seventh with two men on and two outs. But Tyler Ebberts was thrown out at first to end the game and Panthers closer Ryan Rich earned the save.
"He came in and did what we expected him to," said Betts about Rich. "He's got to come in and change speed and get the batters on their front legs. He came in and he did that."
Dakota "Buddha" Goosen got the win on the mound for M-CHS, striking out four. Dalton Randolph took the loss for Dove Creek. He is 1-1 on the year.
"I feel pretty good," said Randolph about pitching so far this season. "(Assistant coach) Mr. (Curtis) Garver is teaching me some good stuff. (There are) a lot of habits that are bad that I need to fix and some that are good that he's teaching me."
Castillo, a sophomore, hit 2-for-3 with a RBI for the Panthers. Martinez forced two walks to go along with his RBI triple.
"We need to work on some stuff. It's the first game," said Martinez, a senior. "Coach told us that this tournament is to see what we need to do. I'm just here to help our team improve. It's my last year trying to make everything count."
Krafka was 2-for-3 and had a RBI for the Bulldogs and Ebberts batted 2-for-4.
Both teams return to action today on the final day of the M-CHS Invite at McAndrew Field. Dove Creek takes the mound against rival Dolores at 11:30 a.m. The Panthers host Monticello (Utah) this afternoon at 3:30.
Results for Friday's games weren't available at press time. See Tuesday's Journal.