JOHNSTOWN – Not a day for the faint-hearted.
Dove Creek baseball went through a full range of emotions – from exultation to heartbreak – in a span of a few hours Saturday, as the Bulldogs rallied to win their playoff opener, 12-11, in extra innings over Haxtun, before dropping their meeting with top-seed Flatirons Academy, 1-0, in the state quarterfinals.
Entering as the No. 8 seed in the 1A postseason, the Bulldogs (10-7, 3-1 2A/1A San Juan Basin League) faced off against No. 9 Haxtun in the opening round, with the winner slated to meet with No. 1 Flatirons Academy in a winner-take-all meeting to decide one of four spots in the state semifinals.
Head coach Trent Daves handed the ball to senior Hayden Gray to try to keep the fifth-place team out of the 2A/1A Lower Platte League at bay.
In his last pitching outing for the Bulldogs, Gray turned in one of the best performances of his career, working six innings and striking out 12 Fighting Bulldog batters.
The offense supported Gray’s stellar pitching by chalking up runs in four of the six innings of his outing, including three runs in the second, and two more in the sixth. Gray would turn over the ball to classmate Branson Smith with a 7-4 lead heading into the seventh.
Haxtun would rally, however, with three runs in the top half of the inning to tie the game and force extra innings. Then, with momentum in their camp, the Fighting Bulldogs would score four more in the top of the eighth to build an 11-7 lead, putting Dove Creek on the brink of elimination.
Showing the resilience that made them competitive against some of the best teams in Southwest Colorado, Dove Creek put together a massive rally in the bottom half of the inning. Using multi-hit days from senior JJ Brunner and Isaiah Knox, the Bulldogs batted around in their half of the eighth, to walk off with a five-run inning to spark the celebrations and send the Bulldogs forward in the bracket.
Senior Kevin Purkat added a pair of hits, as did junior Ryan Jarmon, to spark a 13-hit performance for the Bulldogs, while Gray aided his own effort by reaching safely four times, and scoring each time he reached base.
Just minutes after their celebrations toned down, Dove Creek would have to refocus on their second game of the day, taking on Flatirons Academy, from Westminster.
Winners of their district league, the Bison would send junior Evan Moll to the mound, one of the most prolific strikeout pitchers in the classification. Dove Creek countered with Purkat, and the two set out to produce one of the best pitching duels of the season.
Neither hurler would give an inch over three innings, as Dove Creek struggled to find the offensive traction that they had enjoyed hours earlier.
Flatirons Academy scratched across a run in the fourth inning against Purkat, who only allowed five total base runners and struck out six, over the course of his complete game outing.
As for the Bulldogs, they threatened in multiple innings against Moll, but couldn’t deliver the game-tying run, capping their postseason run just shy of the championship rounds to be played on Wednesday, June 23 at University High School in Greeley. Flatirons Academy advances to play Nucla in the semifinals, with the winner to take on either Holly or Merino for the 1A state title.