Playing under blue skies that made for a perfect autumn day, the Cortez Freedom Cats club baseball team pounded hits to all areas of the field en route to an impressive 17-2 home victory over the Shiprock Angels on Thursday.
Leading the way for the Freedom Cats was senior Ernie Padilla, who belted three hits and scored four runs, and senior Kori Likes, who came through with two hits and a game-high four RBIs.
Asked about the keys to his team’s relentless offensive output, Padilla noted that plate discipline and bat control were key throughout the contest before crediting his team’s 17 runs to countless hours in the batting cage.
“At the very beginning of the season, we were rusty,” Padilla said. “Throughout the season, we’ve progressed. We’re not very big, so we can’t hit the ball very far, but we’ve learned how to hit gaps and place-hit. We’ve gotten cage work in, and we’ve hit off tees over and over.”
While Freedom Cats hitting stole the show throughout much of the contest, the team’s tireless bats were nearly overshadowed by starting pitcher Trinidad McDonell, who tossed one of the finest games of his high school career.
Mixing well-located fastballs on both sides of the plate with timely curveballs that drew praise from fans and opposing coaches alike, McDonell held Shiprock to two hits while striking out five batters in four scoreless innings.
“I told (McDonell), if this was spring ball, I would’ve left you out there to get the shutout,” Freedom Cats manager Tim Passell said. “He did a great job.”
Among the many impressive hitting sequences for the Freedom Cats came during the bottom of the second inning, when Dylan Kibel lined a long RBI single to center to give his team a 6-0 lead. The loudest hit of the night came later in the inning when McDonell lined a long double to center field to drive in Miles Frost and give the Freedom Cats an 8-0 lead.
Freedom Cats players who drove in at least one run in the contest included Padilla, Likes, Kibel, McDonell, Braden Hallman, Ty Blackmer and Landon Gropp. Also turning heads was Jake Blackmer, who pounded out three hits and drew a walk in four plate appearances.
“We hit the ball, we looked for our pitches, and when we got our pitches we hit them,” Passell said. “That’s all I can ask. These players are becoming a brotherhood. We’re all working together, and we’re picking each other up when something is not going right. We’re pushing each other to get better on and off the field.”
Although inclement weather figures to limit the Freedom Cats’ ability to play meaningful games in the coming months, Passell and his players plan to continue working out whenever possible to prepare for what they hope will be a successful high school season.