CORTEZ – With dreams of a 3A Western Slope League title slipping away, a seasoned Panthers squad came up with one of its biggest rallies of the season.
Trailing 7-6 through five innings Saturday against Meeker, the Panthers found big hits in the final two innings to reverse the script, taking the contest, 10-9, as part of a doubleheader split against the Cowboys.
Meeker posted an 11-8 victory in game one, holding off a Panther charge in the late innings.
M-CHS (15-5, 9-1 3A WSL) turned to their upperclassmen to help bounce back from the Game 1 disappointment. Having already assured themselves their fourth consecutive winning season, the seniors that have been a part of the program during that stretch want to add a league title to their final year.
“It seems like we (the senior class) have been playing together our entire lives,” said senior Koral Jackson, “and we’ve been wanting to make this our best year.”
Senior second baseman Hailey Veach got the Panthers rolling in the second game, driving a two-RBI single in the opening inning to help the Panthers build a 4-0 lead.
“We were more confident in the second game,” said senior Taiah Wilson of her team’s response in the second contest. “We talked more, and had a lot more positivity.”
M-CHS batted around in the inning, and would add two more in the top half of the second as classmates Brianna Comisky and Taiah Wilson would reach to begin the inning, followed by a single by junior Rylee Hickman and the third RBI of the game for Veach.
Down 6-2, Meeker (9-10, 9-1 3A WSL) would battle back, however, with a run in the third and four runs in the fourth to take their first lead of the game.
Taking on the steady approach of their head coach, Anthony “Hippo” Frost, the Panthers looked unfazed by the deficit. “He (Coach Frost) puts so much faith in us,” said Veach, “and he makes sure that we believe in ourselves.”
After trading zeroes in the fifth inning, the Panthers faced their final six outs needing a rally. Junior Lizzie Likes led off the sixth inning with a single, followed by Comisky producing the same.
Wilson then looped a single over the head of the first baseman to drive in Likes to tie up the game, before Veach pushed across her fourth RBI via a sacrifice fly.
“We’ve become a hitting team,” said Veach of her team’s biggest improvement over the season, “we’ve been in the batting cages since the winter, and that has paid off for us.”
In the seventh inning, the Panthers would add some insurance, as freshmen Neveah Istenes opened the inning with a single. Classmate Emily Carver would get aboard on a fielder’s choice, before senior left fielder Koral Jackson drove a ball into right field to give the Panthers runners on second and third.
A wild pitch would score Carver, before Comisky would tack on one more run with an RBI to drive in Jackson.
The Panthers would need every bit of their insurance, as Meeker would bring the tying run to the plate in the bottom half of the inning, before Wilson induced three consecutive outs, all recorded by Comisky at third base, to close out the Cowboys.
“I threw a lot of different pitches,” said Wilson of her ability to collect some big outs down the stretch, “and Emily (Carver) was calling for pitches that she thought would work, so together, we worked well as a team.”
Veach punched two more RBIs in the opening loss, while Hickman added two runs and an RBI triple.
“Each year we’ve gotten better,” said Veach, “and that’s allowed us to be able to set some of the high goals that we have for ourselves.”
“We’ve made a name for ourselves over the past four years,” added Jackson of a group that has enjoyed one of its winningest spans in program history.
“It’s been a family that we’ve built over the course of time that we’ve spent together,” added Hickman, “and it’s been an honor to get to play with this group of seniors.”
The Panthers celebrate senior day on Saturday, Oct. 9 at Englehart Field with a pivotal doubleheader against the Cedaredge Bruins. A sweep would ensure M-CHS at least a share of the league title, as they battle for regional seeding, as well.