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Montezuma-Cortez challenges defending Colorado champs Eaton, but falls 7-2

Montezuma-Cortez Panthers converge for a conference on the mound against Coal Ridge on Friday. Jerry Cohoe/Special to The Journal
M-CHS awaits Bayfield or Delta in consolation bracket

Call it a moral victory, but even in a loss, the Montezuma-Cortez Panthers showed they are an elite program in the state.

No team all season has given the Eaton Reds the kind of test that they faced Saturday morning in the 3A state tournament, as M-CHS closed to within two runs in the top of the sixth inning, only to see the No. 1 team in the state pull away for a 7-2 win.

M-CHS still has life in the tournament, and now faces a matchup against either No. 3 Bayfield or No. 7 Delta in the consolation bracket, with the winner earning another week of baseball and a return trip to Greeley for the state championships over the weekend of June 2-3.

Head coach Tim Passell’s squad held no false illusions about what they would be facing in their opposition on Saturday. The Reds (27-0) had only been held under 10 runs once all season, and boasted one of the hottest prospects for July’s Major League Baseball draft in senior shortstop Walker Martin.

Not starstruck, the Panthers (22-5) looked to carry their underdog status against one of the best teams in Colorado, regardless of classification.

Facing crafty junior Garret Garrison, the Panthers looked to get their high-powered offense in gear, but the Eaton hurler kept the Panthers in check in the early innings.

Meanwhile, Panther senior Evan LaMunyon looked to silence an Eaton lineup that had averaged nearly 15 runs per outing. Junior Gunnar Duncan led off the bottom of the first with a triple, and the Reds tallied twice to take the early lead.

M-CHS, however, kept the game close, thanks to their defense, as freshman shortstop Cory Carver – with the bases loaded - robbed Duncan of a hit in the bottom of the fourth inning, turning a double play in the process and keeping the scoreline 4-0.

The Panthers had their say at the plate in the top of the sixth inning, when LaMunyon and senior Jake Blackmer reached base, followed by base hits from senior Braden Hallman and junior Miles Frost to cut the deficit to 4-2.

Eaton responded with three runs in the bottom of the inning, however, as Martin drilled a two-run home run – his 20th home run of the season – to push the lead to five and send the Panthers to the consolation bracket.

LaMunyon pitched well, allowing just five runs over 5.2 innings of work, while striking out four – as the Panthers held Eaton to their lowest run output of the season.

Panthers will face Delta, who defeated Bayfield 12-6 in their consolation contest, on Sunday for an 11:30 a.m. game from Butch Butler Field in Greeley to determine who moves on to next weekend's state championship weekend. The Panthers defeated Delta 11-2 in their regular season meeting on March 28.