After qualifying for the regional tournaments last season, members of the Montezuma-Cortez High School baseball team could have returned to their couches and basked in the glow of their newfound success.
Resting on laurels is not the way of third-year manager Tim Passell, however, and as a result, many of the team’s key members returned to their practice field and their batting cages shortly after the season to prepare for a new year.
Now one week removed from the start of the 2018 season, hopes are high at the Parque de Vida fields as Panthers hitters have looked solid in batting practice, and pitchers have looked impressive on the mound.
“We’re looking good so far,” said senior shortstop and pitcher Cutter Matthews. “We only lost (three) of our starters from last year. It’s going to be a good season.”
Among the players likely to star for the Panthers this year is Jasen Engel, who was named first team all-conference last season after batting .509 and driving in a team-high 27 runs.
The standout senior was equally solid on the mound season as he won a team-best five games, registered a team-high 67 strikeouts and posted a 4.04 ERA. Engel’s five wins marked the most for an M-CHS player since the 1986 season, and he will look to build on that total this year.
“Coming into my senior year, it feels like there’s a little more responsibility since I’ve been through the program for three years,” Engel said. “I’m going to approach this season with the same mentality as last year though, which is to play hard all the time.”
Lining up alongside Engel on the infield and also figuring to spend a good deal of time on the mound will be senior shortstop and pitcher Cutter Matthews, who was named first team all-conference last season after batting .333 and driving in 12 runs.
Stating that he would like to hit at least .500 this season and post a fielding percentage of at least .900, Matthews pointed to hard work throughout the offseason as a factor that will lead this year’s team to success.
“I hit all summer, and me and Jasen would go and throw,” Matthews said. “We were in the cages before preseason practice started trying to get ready for this season.”
Other players figuring to play a key role for the Panthers in the field and at the plate include senior first baseman Andrew Medina, who was named to the second team all-conference team last season, left fielder Isiah Pena and center fielder Cordell Baer.
Junior Cole Herrmann enters the season as the team’s starting second baseman. Junior Clayton Yoder, junior Ryan Medina, sophomore Tristan York, and junior Clayton Yoder, will all see time at multiple infield positions.
Junior Kale Hall, who Passell noted has been hitting the ball well in practice, will see time at the catcher position, and Engel, Matthews, and Ryan Medina will begin the season as the top three starting pitchers for the Panthers.
Asked about his team’s goals for this season, Passell stated that a strong start to the season will be critical in light of the fact that the Panthers are scheduled to play several road doubleheaders against league opponents this season.
“We’ve set a goal to push ourselves early,” Passell said. “Last year, I felt like we weren’t ready for those early games, and that hurt us in the end. Our biggest goal (this season) is to start early and finish strong.”
M-CHS will open its season on the road against Olathe on March 13 before returning home to face Cedaredge, Glenwood Springs and Montrose at the Rumble in the Jungle Tournament in Cortez on March 16-17.
“We’ve got Montrose, Glenwood, and Cedaredge coming in, and they are all quality teams,” Passell said. “I think that’s going to help get us rolling and ready for league.”