Prior to the opening game of the prep baseball season, Montezuma-Cortez High School baseball manager Tim Passell indicated that one of his team’s primary goals was to qualify for the postseason.
Two months and 20 regular season games later, that goal has come to fruition as the Panthers were one of 32 teams to qualify for a Class 3A Regional Tournament. M-CHS (10-10 overall, 3-7 in the Intermountain League) will open regionals against Delta High School (19-4 overall, 9-0 in the West Slope League) in Delta on May 18.
The winner of that matchup will square off against either La Junta High School (16-7 overall, 5-3 in the Tri-Peaks League) or Kent Denver High School (10-12 overall, 5-10 in the Metro League) later in the day on May 18 with a berth in the state tournament on the line.
“This is the second time that we’ve made it to regionals during my tenure and I’m really excited that we made it,” Passell said. “I’m just excited that our seniors will get the experience of playing postseason baseball.”
While Delta figures to present M-CHS with a stiff challenge, the teams’ familiarity with one another could prove to be a difference-maker as the Panthers attempt to pull off an upset. Delta defeated M-CHS 4-1 on March 30 in a game that was tied 1-1 heading into the 6th inning.
“We’re excited about going and playing Delta. We know what they have,” Passell said. “They threw their best arms at us, we’ve seen what they’ve got. We feel like we can put some runs up and we’re hoping to come away with a win.”
Slated to start on the mound for M-CHS in the regional tournament opener will be senior Clayton Yoder, who emerged as his team’s ace arm over the course of the season and pitched his best baseball during the Panthers’ final regular season games.
Yoder wrapped up the regular season with a 3-1 record overall and a 4.52 earned run average. The senior struck out 42 batters in 26.1 innings pitched and walked just 19 batters on the year.
“Clayton has really come on this year and he has been hot on the mound,” Passell said. “Delta saw Preston (Davidovich) the first time we played, so we’re going to switch it up. Clayton is excited to take the ball.”
Among the key contributors at the plate for M-CHS figure to be seniors Cordell Baer and Ryan Medina and sophomore Korie Likes. The three sluggers drove in 14 runs, 17 runs and 16 runs, respectively, for the Panthers while providing power and consistency in the middle of their team’s lineup.
“We went through a midseason deal where some of our better hitters were struggling,” Passell said.
“They weren’t getting the fastballs that they were getting early in the season. We hit well late in the season, though, and we feel we can put some runs up.”
M-CHS’s final games of the regular season came in the form of a home doubleheader against Alamosa High School on May 11.
In the opening game of the doubleheader, the Panthers stood toe to toe with the Mean Moose for seven innings before falling 4-3. Sophomore Dylan Kibel drove in two runs for M-CHS and junior Carson Yoder also had an RBI.
Clayton Yoder started the game on the mound for M-CHS and yielded two earned runs over six innings of work and struck out seven batters. Sophomore Ty Blackmer pitched a scoreless inning in relief.
In the second game of the doubleheader, M-CHS struggled early and fell behind 8-1 after two innings of play before eventually settling for what turned out to be a 16-5 loss.
Baer provided a memorable highlight for the Panthers in the defeat, however, as the senior crushed a three-run home run over the scoreboard in what turned out to be his final plate appearance at Panther Stadium.
“That was our senior game and that was (Baer’s) last at-bat,” Passell said. “That was a good highlight.”