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Montezuma-Cortez baseball picks up statement wins

Montezuma-Cortez senior pitcher Evan LaMunyon fires a pitch in a game against Aztec at McAndrew Field in Cortez. (Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal)
Victories over Delta, Aztec spur 6-2 start

Even as Mother Nature wreaks havoc with the spring athletics schedule, the Montezuma-Cortez baseball team remains unperturbed.

Coinciding with Major League Baseball’s Opening Day, the Panthers looked to make their first home game of the season one they would remember, even though the team could practice a couple of times on their home soil because of the persistent precipitation.

Shortly after another skiff of March snow melted off McAndrew Field in Parque de Vida, the Panthers went to work. Battling freezing temperatures and a stiff wind, but determined to face a stout Aztec squad, M-CHS weathered an early Tigers storm before rallying to a 5-4 victory.

The win came on the heels of an 11-2 post-spring break win over Delta – a perennial Western Slope 3A power – helping the Panthers (6-2) really get a head of steam heading into a busy week ahead, where head coach Tim Passell’s squad will face San Juan, Glenwood Springs, and Cañon City over three consecutive days on April 5-7.

M-CHS’ combination of experience and youth has materialized with fantastic results, while the Panthers picked up their first one-run victory of the season over Aztec.

The Tigers (8-6) pushed across three runs in the first inning against Panthers starter Evan LaMunyon before the senior settled in and stifled the visiting bats.

“I hit my spots today,” said LaMunyon of his strong day on the bump, “with the wind, my slider had some good movement as well.” After allowing four base runners in the first inning, the Panthers conceded just two base hits for the remainder of the game.

Offense, however, was harder to come by, as Aztec kept the Panthers off the scoreboard through the first two innings. The Panthers scratched across a run in the third, as freshman Cory Carver singled, before scoring on a LaMunyon RBI groundout.

While the defense continued to produce goose eggs, M-CHS would finally get their big inning. Both Carver and LaMunyon would reach, before freshman Darren Daves would belt a triple into the right-center gap, scoring the tying runs. Daves later scored the go-ahead run, putting the Panthers up 4-3.

Montezuma-Cortez senior Gabriel Crowley snags a fly ball in centerfield in a game against Aztec at McAndrew Field in Cortez. (Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal)

“We’re solid up and down the lineup – there aren’t any dry parts in the lineup, everyone’s able to contribute and help us stay in a strong rhythm,” reflected LaMunyon on the team’s consistent production.

Carver would add an inside-the-park home run in the sixth for some insurance, before Daves came on to pitch the final out with Aztec sitting with the tying run aboard in the seventh. The opportunistic Panthers scored five runs on five hits, while producing a clean defensive effort behind the stellar pitching performance. While the Panthers feasted on putting balls in play, their own outfield navigated the windy conditions to deny the Tigers free outs.

“The outfielders really read the ball well,” added LaMunyon, “and it helps to have that confidence that they’re going to make those plays.”

Junior Miles Frost added a triple, while playing sturdy defense at first base.

“Having a lot of upperclassmen helps the development,” added the senior pitcher, “and even with limited outdoor practice time, we’ve been sticking with it, looking to find ways to make it happen – so as it eventually gets warmer, we’re going to keep getting better.”

After their tough stretch this week, M-CHS returns home on April 11 for a meeting with Grand County, before league play officially begins on Apr. 15. The Panthers take on Pagosa Springs to get IML play underway at Parque de Vida.