The Montezuma-Cortez High School Panthers welcomed baseball powers Dolores and Blanding, Utahs, San Juan to the Cortez Invitational last week at McAndrew Field.
M-CHS (3-4) and defending 2A San Juan Basin League champion Dolores (2-2) were no match for the defending Utah 2A state champions. San Juan (5-2) won all three of its games to take the tournament crown by beating the Panthers 15-7 on Friday, crushing Dolores 27-14 on Saturday morning, and then edging M-CHS 17-15 (F/8) Saturday afternoon.
The Panthers knocked off Dolores 14-7 on Friday afternoon for their only win of the tournament. Dolores went 0-2 at the Cortez Invitational.
In the tourney opener between M-CHS and Dolores, the visiting Bears struck first with two runs in the top of the first-inning. In the bottom half, the Panthers answered with four runs to take a 4-2 lead, and they never trailed again.
Dolores stayed within striking distance only down 7-4 after four innings, but M-CHS got the bats going in the fifth and sixth innings behind two hits apiece from first baseman Armando Martinez and second baseman Devin Fox. The Panthers scored seven runs in the two innings and led 14-5 going into the seventh. Dolores tacked on two more for the final margin.
We started off pretty good, Dolores High School coach Jim Everin said. I thought (starting pitcher) Austin (McCracken) was throwing the ball with good velocity. He just wouldnt hit the spots. Its a pretty good hitting ball club, and we just got burned a few too many times. We didnt make the fundamental play when we had to. You only want to give a team 21 outs, and Im sure we gave them more than 21 outs.
Simon Condon went 2-for-2 at the plate for Dolores, and teammate Dey Campuzeno was 2-for-3 with an RBI.
M-CHS looked to increase its two-game winning streak against San Juan in the next game that afternoon. For the first four innings, it was a tight contest between the Broncos and Panthers. Each team battled run for run, and M-CHS grabbed its first lead in the fourth inning on a Fox sacrifice-fly that scored Martinez to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead. But the other Panthers forgot to tag up. After the San Juan second baseman caught the out, he tagged second base for the second out and then tagged the Panther at first base for the third out to end the inning.
The Broncos would make M-CHS pay in the fifth. Colton Rouche started the inning off with a single. Panthers pitcher Tallon Ralstin struck out the next batter, but things snowballed after that. Pitcher Logan Meyer later belted an RBI-triple that scored two runs to give San Juan a 4-3 lead that it would not relinquish. The Broncos scored seven runs in the fifth, shutout the Panthers in the bottom half and scored six more in the sixth to take a commanding 15-3 lead, to the delight of the Blanding faithful.
Sometimes you got to tip your cap when teams are putting the ball where youre not, M-CHS coach Sam Perry said about San Juan. I thought our pitchers pitched well; they just swung the bats. You just got to tip your cap.
The Panthers came back in the seventh with three hits that sent four runners home, but it wasnt nearly enough as the Broncos won.
Im really proud of the fact that even though they did string all those hits together and get those runs, we bounced back, Perry said. We never let down. We battled back and scored runs of our own. It just goes to show in high school baseball, youre never really out of it.
Ralstin had two singles in the game and forced two walks while striking out four on the mound.
Meyer led San Juan with three hits and four RBIs, and struck out six pitching.
The Saturday morning opener between Dolores and San Juan had plenty of offensive fireworks. But San Juan had more fireworks and started the game with seven runs.
Dolores came back with four runs and scored two in the second to the Broncos one and only trailed 8-6 going into the third inning.
However, San Juan put together another seven-run inning and added four more in the fourth to take a 19-7 lead.
The Bears didnt go away quietly and scored six runs in the bottom of the fifth, highlighted by freshman third baseman Tyler Weirs RBI-triple to extend the game. Weir came off the bench, and got two RBIs and scored in addition to his triple.
Trailing 19-13 to start the sixth, the pesky Broncos responded with eight more runs to put the game out of reach. Dolores scored one more time in the bottom of the sixth for the final.
Our backs were against the wall coming into this ball game, Everin said. Blanding has just been a really good program over the years. We just wanted to show up and try and play some baseball. We wanted to use this experience, and try and get better. We had some timely hits and kept the game within reach. Wed go back and play defense, and we just handed it to them again. We just got to get better.
McCracken hit 2-for-3 at the plate, and Byron Crites was 2-for-5.
All we needed was a break. We played a really good game, I think, Weir said. They just hit us, and they have really good pitching. We just needed a couple breaks to get back in it. We got a couple, but then they got back in it with their big sticks.
The final game between the Broncos and Panthers was a back and forth battle royale that needed eight innings to finish. But again, San Juan won.
The Broncos took an early 3-1 lead before M-CHS came back with four runs to take its first lead. Starting pitcher Chris Black had a sac-fly RBI, and left fielder Tam Phan hit an RBI-single in the third-inning.
San Juan scored three runs in the fourth to regain the lead at 6-4, but back came Cortez with five runs over two innings to lead 9-6 and seize control.
In the sixth, the Broncos got out the bats once again and strung out seven more hits that scored eight runs to take a 14-9 lead and take the air out of the home crowd. But the Panthers answered with five runs to tie the game. Martinez sparked the run with an inside-the-park home run that also scored Ralstin and lit a fuse under the M-CHS fans. Gerardo Martinez hit an RBI-single that scored two runs, and Meyer balked on the mound for San Juan to send another Panther home.
The Broncos scored one in the top of the seventh to lead 15-14. Fox then tied the game with an RBI-single in the bottom half. The Panthers had the bases loaded with two outs, but Gerardo Martinez struck out for the third out.
In the eighth-inning, San Juan put two more on the board, but this time M-CHS couldnt answer and the visitors walked off McAndrew Field with a thrilling win.
What I like is that the direction the program is going, Perry said. Were to a point where we dont fear anyone and were going to battle to the last pitch. Once weve accomplished that, the next level is expecting to win. Thats the biggest difference Ive seen in our players from day one to now, is a different expectation nowadays.
Fox hit 3-for-3 with an RBI and a walk, Phan was 3-for-5 with three RBIs and Black went 3-for-6 with and RBI.
Were not going to out hit anybody. Were not going to out pitch anybody. But were going to hang in there and battle whatever they throw at us, Fox said. Thats what we do. Were scrappy. Were going to fight until the very last pitch. Thats what people need to expect us to do from here on out.
The Panthers will be in action again today at Bayfield at 2 p.m.
The Bears will be at Durango today at 3 p.m.
Reach Bobby Abplanalp at email@example.com.