WESTMINSTER – Once the bats got going in the regional tournament matchup with Fort Lupton, the Montezuma-Cortez offense could sense an upset in the making.
Unfortunately for the feisty Panthers, the rally ran out of innings, as the No. 11 Blue Devils held on for a 9-6 victory Saturday, leaving M-CHS one game shy of another 3A state tournament appearance.
In what has become an annual rite for the Panthers, their regional appearance positioned the Panthers with a win-and-in scenario in their bout against the Frontier League champions. With a surging offense that scored 49 runs over their final four regular season contests, the Panthers hoped to outslug Fort Lupton in their contest at The Academy in Westminster.
An early run from the Blue Devils, followed by three in the third inning placed the Panthers in a deepening hole. The Panthers were held in check for the opening five innings, and found themselves behind 5-0 with only two innings to play.
With their backs to the wall, M-CHS (11-13) responded with a big sixth inning, pushing across four runs to close the gap to one.
Fort Lupton (18-6-1) answered with a big inning of their own – posting a four-spot in the bottom of the sixth – to rebuild the five-run edge.
The Panthers weren’t done, though, tallying twice more in their final at-bat, but unable to complete the comeback before the final out. Fort Lupton assured themselves a spot in the 3A field of 16 that advances to the Aurora Sports Complex on Oct. 20-21.
Eight Panthers collected base hits, including four freshmen who made their maiden appearance in the high school postseason. Juniors Kenzie Whipple and Devyn Cornett enjoyed multi-hit days, as both drove in runs while accounting for two of the three Panther extra-base hits.
Freshman Saylor Martinez belted a two-run home run in the rally, while classmate Hailey Loyd added an RBI single.
Cornett took to the circle, posting a complete game performance with eight strikeouts against the Blue Devils.
M-CHS’ lone senior Trenity Tillahash played in her final softball game for the Panthers, capping her best season with the program with a .315 average and 17 runs scored.
The remainder of the starting nine for head coach Anthony “Hippo” Frost were either juniors or freshman, meaning that the Panthers will bring back a group that will be hungry to build on this year’s fourth place finish in the 3A Western Slope League.