A six-hit, third-inning propelled the Montezuma-Cortez High School baseball team to 5-0 lead over rival Durango on Thursday evening, and the Panthers were thinking upset.
As the game progressed, costly errors and costly pitching by the Panthers bullpen let the Demons back in it. Down 5-4 in the top of the seventh, Nico Rodriguez belted an RBI-double to center field that scored two runs that gave Durango its only lead of the game at 6-5. M-CHS couldnt answer in the bottom of the seventh-inning and the Demons left McAndrew Field with a shocking 1-point win.
Well, theres no other way to say it. Its a heartbreaker to lose a game like this, Panthers coach Sam Perry said. Its just a tough loss for us. Theres nobody that wants it more for my boys than me.
M-CHS (4-9, 0-5 4A Southwestern League) controlled the game for five innings behind solid pitching from starter Chris Black, who went 6 1/3 innings and held a 5-1 lead going into the sixth.
The Panthers got going by starting the bottom of the third on fire. Second baseman Devin Fox hit a single, and then shortstop Ryan Haley hit an RBI-double to score Fox to take a 1-0 lead. Black sent Haley home after he grounded out to first, and it was 2-0. After Demons starter Kyle Shepard walked Gerardo Martinez and Manuel Hernandez, Durango coach Rob Coddington brought in Jacob Shepard in relief. He struck out center fielder Brandon Brady, but then gave up RBI-singles to first baseman Stephen Candelaria and right fielder Tam Phan bringing in three more runs. The next batter, Jacob Shepard, caught catcher Tallon Ralstin swinging for the third out, but the Panthers dugout was ecstatic about their 5-0 lead.
The Demons got on the board in the fourth-inning to cut it to 5-1. M-CHS, though, held the Demons scoreless in the fifth and the Panthers were six outs away from a much needed win.
Durango (9-5, 4-1 4A SL) came in winners of three-straight games and werent about to concede. Relief hitter Jake Siekman came in the top of the sixth-inning and hit an RBI-triple with one out that scored two runs to cut the M-CHS lead in half at 5-3. Black was relieved after that, finishing with three strike outs, no walks and two earned runs. The Demons added one more run to close out the top of the sixth down one, and the orange-and-black fans grew ever so restless.
The Panthers looked to add an insurance run with Josh White on third base with one out in the bottom half, but Ralstins pop out to center field wasnt deep enough for the sacrifice-fly and Perry made White stay at third. Fox popped out to center for the third out and the score remained 5-4.
Haley stepped to the mound to close out the game in the seventh. After walking Connor Dugan, Easton Garcia grounded to Fox and he was positioned for the 4-6-3 double play or at least for one out at second base. But Fox bobbled the ball and lost control for an error, and both runners were safe with no outs. Two batters later, Rodriguezs dagger to center field put the visitors ahead for good.
This game is a heartbreaker, for sure. Its hard in any game like this, Black said. Were going forward every day. We just keep grinding, grinding, grinding, like this.
Perry said his team keeps making steps in the right direction and feels improved pitching almost won the game for the Panthers.
Chris Black pitched an outstanding ball game. He deserves the win. We couldnt hold the lead for him in the bullpen. Im proud of the way Chris Black pitched the ball, Perry said.
Despite the loss, the Panthers have been gaining confidence, and Black said he and his teammates wont get down on themselves.
Its a big boost for us. We played neck and neck, whole game above them, he said.
M-CHS closes out its home schedule with league foes Montrose and Fruita Monument next Friday and Saturday, April 22-23, at 4 p.m. and 10 a.m. at McAndrew Field.
Reach Bobby Abplanalp at email@example.com.