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Gallegos named SJBL Player of the Year

Sophomore shortstop anchored Ignacio’s defense
Ignacio shortstop Jacob Gallegos prepares to gun out an opposing base runner at IHS Field. He was recently named first team All-SJBL and SJBL Player of the Year. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

Going into the 2022 season, his first as a high school varsity baseball head coach, Duke Baker knew multiple primary pieces to Ignacio’s puzzle were already in place. He also knew there were a few needing finessing to create the desired fit.

But there was one completely missing, one upon which any number of skippers would have constructed their lineups.

Ignacio’s Eppie Quintana slides safely into second base during road action at Sargent. Used as a pitcher, catcher and even an infielder during 2022, Quintana was recently named first team All-SJBL. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

And with senior Gabe Tucson concentrating this spring on honing his college-caliber hoop game, Baker plus assistants Isiah Valdez and Lawrence Toledo Sr., were left lacking a mound ace as well as a first baseman.

Confident in junior Eppie Quintana’s right arm to replace Tucson’s left as IHS’ No. 1 option on the bump, the Bobcats’ brain trust still needed an able glove at first … and early on, the coaches found one.

One which just recently was named to the first-team All-San Juan Basin League: Rylan Maez.

“Last year he … was the bullpen catcher; that’s all he played,” Baker said of Maez. “Well, they put him in the outfield – I think he said – one game … but we moved him to first at the beginning of the year, and he did amazing for us.”

“He was (going to be in the) outfield, but … he went from that to being one of the best basemen in the league. He’s come a long ways from where he started; Rylan’s a monster at first … can pick it like no other.”

“You’ve got to play with what you’ve got,” said Maez, who solidified Ignacio’s right side with second baseman/brother Marcus. “That’s about it.”

“Our defense was lockdown,” Baker said. “Marcus and Rylan, those boys are stepping up … rising to the occasion.”

Also named first-team All-League as infielders were Nucla sophomore Steele Arnold and Dove Creek freshman Sheldon Gardner. DCHS sophomore Gage Buffington received a second-team nod.

IHS shortstop Jacob Gallegos earned not only a first-team selection, but was also named SJBL Player of the Year.

“That kid … he’s amazing. Plays great defense, is a team player and a great captain,” Baker said. “And he’s young! It’s well-deserved, for sure. Jake’s always there, and Eppie and Phillip – those boys are always on it.”

Eppie Quintana was voted first-team All-SJBL as a pitcher, while his sophomore brother Phillip Quintana received second-team nods as a catcher. Phillip was also the Bobcats’ No. 2 pitcher (with sibling Eppie usually receiving) and proved vital in helping Ignacio win the league title and reach the 32-team CHSAA Class 2A State Tournament’s Sweet 16, when the ’Cats fell 6-1 at Wiggins in the Region VIII championship.

WHS then lost the Quadrant I finale 16-1 to top-seeded Limon, which went on to complete an undefeated season by clipping Colorado Springs St. Mary’s 3-2 in the final. LHS was won 46 straight since an extra-innings loss to Rye in 2019.

NHS seniors Brayden Magallon and Josh Flint were named first- and second-team All-SJBL, respectively, as pitchers, while DCHS sophomore Hunter Daves also was chosen second-team All-League. First-team catcher went to Nucla senior Jarret Sinks; Dove Creek junior Kendall Gardner copped honorable mention status.

Though pressed into playing third base late in the season, IHS sophomore Devante Montoya manned center field for the majority of it and was a certain first team All-League pick among the loop’s fly-chasers. Also honored as such were DCHS senior Ryan Jarmon and NHS senior Josh Alexander, while Mustangs senior Gage Owen received second-team praise.

Nucla senior Carson Gardner earned first-team All-SJBL as a designated hitter, while Dove Creek junior Cole Taber was a first-team utility-player pick with Flint earning an honorable mention.

Despite driving Ignacio (15-8, 4-2 SJBL) to 10 more victories than the program managed last year, SJBL Coach of the Year went to NHS’ Randy Gabriel rather than Baker. And though Baker was nonplused, he nonetheless expressed congratulations.

“His team, they’re an amazing group,” Baker said. “And Randy’s an amazing coach; I love the guy. For the, you know, (Class 1A) playoffs I wished him good luck and he wished me good luck, told me what a good team we have.”

“And look at what they accomplished!” he continued. “As a team we did things people never thought we could.”

Stunned 14-4 by, ironically, Dove Creek in the 1A-District 1 championship, Gabriel’s Nucla Mustangs soon made amends by eliminating Trent Daves’ Bulldogs 13-3 in the state quarterfinals. DCHS (2-4 San Juan Basin) ended up 12-10 overall, while NHS (3-3 SJBL) finished 15-8 after then losing 18-0 to top-seeded Merino in four innings of semifinals action.

Merino then completed their school’s maiden title-winning season edging 6-seed Holly, 4-3, in 10 innings.