By Joel Priest, For The Journal
IGNACIO – Given about the most difficult task a relief pitcher can face, Kevin Purkat all but admitted he may not have been the most ideal choice to be put atop the mound with season-opener hosting Ignacio having loaded the bases and turned their lineup over.
But with Dove Creek starter Branson Smith having recorded two outs during the bottom of the fourth inning before exiting after a bases-loaded walk to nine-hole hitter Jace Carmenoros, who’d doubled to deep center his previous time up, the visiting Bulldogs needed just an out from their shortstop-turned-hurler on Tuesday afternoon.
Facing leadoff Bobcat Jacob Gallegos, whose two earlier grounders Purkat had successfully fielded, the senior managed to induce yet another bouncer to short. Gallegos was thrown out at first, and the threat had been avoided.
“I hadn’t pitched in a while, but it felt good getting up there,” said Purkat. “Everything was just feeling good; I was throwing strikes and my defense was there to back me up.”
Committing zero errors on Ignacio High School’s synthetic surface, Dove Creek would sew up a 5-0 win retiring 10 Bobcats consecutively with Purkat, one of several former Dolores Bears now combining forces with DCHS, earning a save in long relief of Smith.
Smith was the winning pitcher after going 3 2/3 innings with three hits and two walks allowed along with two hit batters. He struck out four.
“Error-less baseball, really good defense and a shutout? You can’t ask for better than that,” Purkat said after striking out four and not allowing a hit. “Overall, it went really good, just like we wanted it to.”
Ignacio was limited to just the three hits in the game, leaving the Bobcats wanting more out of the lineup in upcoming games.
“We definitely need to clean it up in the infield, but our outfield did solid And once we find our sticks, we’ll be alright,” said Ignacio sophomore second baseman Eppie Quintana, who went 1-for-2 with a double and a walke. “Hopefully, we can change that these coming practices.”
Purkat would get the guests on the scoreboard first in the top of the third inning, reaching on a Quintana fielding error and then reaching second when Ignacio starting pitcher Holland Roukema, who pitched five innings allowing two runs on one hit and five walks while striking out seven, couldn’t collect a Kendall Gardner comebacker. Purkat then took third on a wild pitch to J.J. Brunner and then scored when Brunner bounced out to first baseman Adam House.
Gardner, who walked three times and scored twice, would later score on a two-out wild pitch to Isaiah Knox, but Knox, who walked four times, would be thrown out at home plate attempting to score on a short Smith single to right.
Despite trailing 2-0, Roukema had no problem recomposing himself and worked through the visitors’ fourth and fifth sustaining no further damage.
“I just relaxed and did my own thing,” said Roukema, whose final pitch resulted in Gallegos, just a freshman, calmly turning an inning-ending 6-3 double play off Bulldog cleanup hitter Hayden Gray’s bat. “We should have won this game. Had a couple errors, but we’ll clean that up.”
Given the ball to face Dove Creek (1-0) in the top of the sixth, Ignacio senior lefty Dylan Labarthe, who’d started in center field, stranded runners at second and third as he survived his first inning of work. But after the Bobcats (0-1) went 1-2-3 in the home half, Labarthe ran into trouble in the tell-all seventh. In his 1 1/3 innings of work, he walked five, gave up one hit and struck out two. He was charged with one of the three runs surrendered while he was on the hill.
Facing new pitcher Gabe Tucson, sophomore Cole Taber then hit a chopper to second. But as baseball fate would have it, a relocated Roukema couldn’t make the scoop, allowing Brunner to score on the error. Hustling around third base, Gray’s gamble also paid off as Roukema’s rushed throw home missed the catcher’s mitt.
Tucson, who struck out two, managed to then freeze freshman No. 7 hitter Gage Buffington and fan freshman No. 8 Jon Purkat to extinguish the fire, but the damage proved irreparable.
“We were really looking forward to this game, the start of the season, to get us rolling. Bayfield will be really tough, so this was a good warm-up,” said Kevin Purkat, looking to Thursday’s non-league home doubleheader versus the 3A Wolverines.
Carmenoros finished 1-for-2 in defeat with a double and a walk, and senior catcher Lawrence Toledo went 1-for-3 with a single as the Bobcats will next face opposition Saturday when they host 2A Meeker for a doubleheader beginning at 11 a.m.
“It’ll be good competition,” said Quintana. “I hear they’re pretty good, so it’ll be a gauge for us to see how we’ll do.”