Having punished the most major mistake her Montezuma-Cortez counterpart made Thursday, Durango pitcher Sydney Flores knew such a gift wouldn’t be offered twice.
“I was told to scoot up in the box, because she was throwing drop balls and rise balls,” she said, detailing her booming at-bat leading off the fourth inning. “And usually (a pitch) breaks at the plate, so since I scooted up ... I was able to see it before it broke and just drove it.”
“It’s not good when someone hits like that. ... And she hit it far, too,” said M-CHS head coach Anthony ‘Hippo’ Frost. “And there’s, like, three girls on their team that could get a hold of the ball really good.”
Pitcher Taiah Wilson, meanwhile, knew that she now faced a make-or-break moment, having surrendered an intimidating solo shot estimated to fly at least 250 feet, putting her team down 3-0 in an early clash with Flores having already fanned seven Lady Panthers.
“It wasn’t bothering me too bad,” she said. “I felt very good – all of us did. We came together after that.”
Incredibly, Wilson recovered by striking out Bryn Valdez, Mia Baguskas and Meah Mordecai in succession, then led off the home half of the frame doubling to left field. A wild pitch to Koral Jackson gave her passage to third base, and Jackson promptly poked a single to right, plating Wilson’s courtesy runner Nizhoni Sam and giving M-CHS’ Cortez Softball Complex something to cheer.
“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,” said Frost. “It’s a plus, and it picks up your team when a pitcher does that.”
Nothing came of an Alaysia Kremer two-out single in the top of the fifth for Durango, and the Lady Panthers sensed vulnerability. Batting in the lead-off slot, catcher Allie Kibel smacked a one-out double to center and would later score on second baseman Hailey Veach’s sacrifice fly to center.
With two away, Wilson then dug in against Flores and ripped a critical 2-RBI double to left – plating centerfielder Lizzie Likes and shortstop Rylee Hickman – to give M-CHS a sudden 4-3 lead.
“I just needed one girl to start it off – and it just so happened to be Taiah, you know?” a grinning Frost said. “That’s why she’s ... the No. 4 or No. 5 batter, and it was just contagious – everyone started rolling.”
Flores then plunked Jackson, and third baseman Bri Comisky capitalized with a single to right, scoring Sam. Three hitters and two runs (Comisky, Erin Brown) later, Lady Demon boss John Bernazzani had no choice but to remove Flores before the 8-3 margin grew.
In fact, the gap quickly closed, as Teagan Kehn led off the visitors’ sixth inning with a triple to right and then scored on a Flores double to center. Valdez followed with an RBI single to right, and Durango was back to 8-5.
Baguskas then managed to beat out an infield single before Veach’s throw reached first baseman Brown, and both she and Valdez gained another base when Wilson pitched wild to Mordecai.
Unwilling to see an unbeaten start to the season disappear, the Lady Panthers’ defense tightened behind the pitching circle and came to the rescue when Mordecai zipped a line drive into Likes’ mitt. Knowing Baguskas had to retreat back to third, Likes then relayed the ball to Veach, who then tossed it to Hickman to double off Baguskas. Reenergized, Wilson then struck out Lola Bradshaw to retire the side.
“Towards the end of the game, we stuck with it,” said Wilson, who then quickly set the top third of Durango’s lineup — Sylvia Reyes, Kremer, Lily Longan — down in order to secure the three-run victory and a 3-0 overall record in the young 2020 campaign. “I think it was just, like, adrenalin and the team getting pumped up — all of us together — and that mentality, knowing that we’re coming back up.”
Having already thrashed 3A Western Slope League rival Gunnison 18-3 and 15-3 on Saturday, Aug. 15, Frost wasn’t exactly surprised by his squad’s start this season; rather, he was pleased to see his team overcome adversity — against their arch-nemesis, to boot.
“You know, it’s really good,” said the first-year skipper, taking over for predecessor Brittney Whiteman after a solid 17-7, State Tournament Round of 16 run in 2019. “I’m really confident being out there ... because it’s really easy to coach these girls. They listen, they respect you, and when you’ve got girls like that, that are coachable, it makes anything fun to do.”
Montezuma-Cortez (3-0, 2-0 WSL) was next to have played a doubleheader Tuesday, Aug. 25, against high-scoring, non-league Rifle (3-0, 0-0 4A Western Slope) at neutral Delta, but results were unavailable at press time.
“I know they lost a lot of players, but they have a good third baseman, and their whole infield ... they’re solid,” Frost said. “So it’s going to be another battle.”
Delta will also serve as the site for M-CHS’ Aug. 29 WSL twin bill with Aspen.