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Montezuma-Cortez baseball growing up quickly

Panther junior Samson Lein (26) celebrates with his teammates at home plate after launching a two-run home run in a game against Delta at McAndrew Field in Cortez. Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal
Panthers blast Delta, learn identity through rigorous schedule

When Montezuma-Cortez head coach Tim Passell filled in the lineup card to begin the 2024 season, he knew that his young Panthers squad would gain a wealth of experience, win or lose, in their first three weeks of the season.

Four juniors and five underclassmen occupied the nine starting spots for the Panthers in their second home game of the season, and another stern test awaited with regional power Delta paying a visit to the Four Corners. M-CHS had already tested their mettle against defending state champion Eaton and multiple top-10 programs from Utah, accumulating a record of 3-4, and could see the youth movement starting to put the pieces together.

Panthers sophomore Cory Carver leads away from second base in a game against Delta at McAndrew Field in Cortez. Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal
Panthers sophomore Darren Daves smashes a base hit in a game against Delta at McAndrew Field in Cortez. Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal

Against the team that ended their magical state tournament run in 2023, M-CHS (4-4) compiled their most complete performance of the season, dominating from the opening pitch – putting up crooked numbers in four innings while junior Seth Oakes shut down a potent Delta lineup in a 10-2 win on Wednesday afternoon at Parque de Vida.

“Our intensity is way up,” said Passell after the win. “The early part of our season grew us up. Scheduling who we did in the early games helped show these younger guys where we want to be.”

Junior infielder Samson Lein belted a two-run homer in the first inning to get the fireworks started on a day when the Panthers rattled 13 hits.

“I got a good jump on it,” said Lein of his towering shot over the left field wall. “I felt it off the bat – that it was gone.”

From there, Oakes befuddled Delta while leaning on his defense to snuff out the visiting Panthers threats in the third and fourth innings. The junior southpaw went six innings, allowing just four hits to pick up his second win on the hill in the past four days – including a 5-0 blanking of Brush over the past weekend.

“My fastball and the defense were really working today,” said Oakes of his elevated role as a primary part of the Panther rotation, “and I just threw my game. I put in the work to get me ready for this role, and now it’s just about giving it my all.”

“We’ve really got a number of guys that we feel like we can trust on the mound,” added Lein, “it’s become a pitch-by-committee, and we’ve been able to adapt – and beating a really good team like Delta is a huge confidence boost.”

Sophomore Darren Daves collected three hits and three runs driven in, including a pair in a big fourth inning that helped M-CHS blow the game open with a 7-2 lead.

Sophomore infielder Cory Carver continued his torrid start to the season, batting just under .500 through eight games, by adding a pair of hits and two RBIs. Junior catcher Kolby Wirth and sophomore outfielder Parker Conrad each notched a pair of hits as well, as M-CHS continued to put distance between themselves and Delta with three more runs in the sixth inning. Daves pitched a scoreless seventh inning to close out the win.

On defense, every Panther starter collected either a putout or an assist in the win as Conrad and junior Bobby Likes tracked the ball well off the bat and accounted for five fly ball outs.

“One through nine in the order were productive today,” added Passell, “and the defense was reading the ball well, getting good jumps on line drives.”

The Panthers meet San Juan for the second of their three meetings this season in Cortez on Saturday morning at 11 a.m., before they depart on a five-game road trip, which includes their league opener against Pagosa Springs on Apr. 13.