Montezuma-Cortez didn’t flinch with an early 2-0 deficit that grew to 3-0 by the mid-innings Thursday. The Panthers already had two games this season and knew the bats would come around after they had scored 33 combined runs in their first two games.
Durango High School opened its softball season Thursday at Montezuma-Cortez, which had already tallied a pair of lopsided home wins to start the season against league opponent Gunnison last Saturday. The home team didn’t flinch Thursday when the Demons started fast in the first inning with two runs. Behind the pitching and hitting of Taiah Wilson, Montezuma-Cortez rallied to secure an 8-5 victory and improve to 3-0.
“Durango came out, their pitching was on cue, and their defense and batting was amazing,” said Cortez head coach Anthony ‘Hippo’ Frost. “They got our girls down pretty quick in the game, but our girls got out of it and started hitting the ball themselves and rallied together.”
Wilson and her starting pitching counterpart Sydney Flores of Durango were the stars of Thursday’s game. Flores went 5 2/3 innings in the circle for DHS (0-1). She allowed seven hits and struck out eight. Of the eight runs that scored, six were earned. Errors in the field would cost the Demons in the fifth inning.
Flores also was 3-for-3 at the plate with two doubles and a towering solo home run in the top of the fourth inning. She had two runs batted in.
“That home run would have been out of any park,” DHS head coach John Bernazzani said.
After the big Flores homer, Wilson would settle in and strike out the next three Durango hitters to end the inning. It was a key momentum shift.
“It’s not good when someone hits like that, and she hit it far, too,” Frost said of Flores’ homer. “I tell you, I think if the other fence was there, it would have probably went well over 280 (feet). And there’s like three girls on their team that could get a hold of the ball really good, but once you do something like that – let a girl hit it over – then come right back and strike three out, her confidence level was there. It’s a plus, and it picks up your team when a pitcher does that.”
Wilson also was a force at the plate for the Panthers. She had a pair of doubles and two RBIs in addition to being hit by a pitch and one walk.
“Like I told Taiah, I just needed one girl to start it off, and it just so happened to be Taiah,” Frost said. “That’s why she’s in that spot – the No. 4 or No. 5 batter – and it was just contagious; everyone started rolling.”
Wilson pitched a complete seven-inning game for the Panthers. She allowed nine hits and five runs – four earned – and didn’t walk a batter while she struck out six.
Allie Kibel of Cortez played a key role in the fifth-inning rally for the Panthers, as she came through with a one-out double to spark a rally.
Durango catcher Alaysia Kremer, a Bayfield High School sophomore who plays for the Demons, went 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored. Teagan Kehm also had a triple and a run scored for the Demons.
“We had a lot more opportunities. I think it was first-game jitters,” Bernazzani said. “We just didn’t hit like we could. The Cortez pitcher did a good job working around the plate, and we just didn’t execute with base runners on. We should have done more.”
Coaches wore face coverings in the dugouts, as did players after warmups. When Flores hit her homer, there was no team celebration near home plate. It was part of the new-look game during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the Colorado High School Activities Association has limited teams to no more than 12 players per game with other health protocols in place during a shortened season. Only cross-country, boys golf, boys tennis and softball are being played in Colorado this fall, and all other high school sports will start after the calendar turns to 2021.
“Things went well with the COVID-19 regulations,” Bernazzani said. “It’s a little different with no high-fives, but we are accepting the differences well and are happy to be out playing in this environment. Cortez did a nice job of hosting us. I saw a lot of fans and players happy to be outside and experiencing the game.”
Bernazzani’s Demons will now prepare for their home opener, a doubleheader set to begin at noon Saturday against 5A/4A Southwestern League foe Fruita Monument (1-0). Bernazzani said the team will get in the batting cage Friday and try to mentally reset before squaring off with the 5A opponent.
“The first game is behind us now,” he said. “We know we can be much better at the plate.”
The Panthers will try to keep the winning streak going in a doubleheader Tuesday against Rifle. Those games will begin at 2 p.m. at Delta High School.
“They’re looking forward to it,” Frost said of his team. “I don’t know how Rifle is. I know they lost a lot of players, but they have a good third baseman, and their whole infield, they’re solid. So, it’s going to be another battle.”