About 16 hours separated a pair of Panthers walking across the graduation stage at Panther Stadium and crossing home plate three times in their first state tournament appearance – never mind the eight-hour drive mixed in.
Panthers Evan LaMunyon and Jake Blackmer, along with a cluster of Montezuma-Cortez seniors receiving their diplomas on Saturday evening in Cortez, looked to make sure that there would be no post-graduation letdown, as M-CHS marched to Greeley and the 3A state tournament on a mission.
The Panthers dismantled previously unbeaten Coal Ridge, 11-2, in their state tournament debut, scoring in six of the seven innings to send M-CHS into the winner’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament.
Playing at University High School, the Panthers (22-4) came in as an underdog based on seeding, but looked like the more confident of the two squads, as they picked apart the Titan pitching with a bundle of singles – nine in the contest – to create the winning recipe that has made M-CHS so dangerous all year.
Get on base, then wreak havoc.
The Panthers stole five bags, and drew nine walks to keep the Western Slope League champions on their heels from the opening pitches of the game.Blackmer and LaMunyon led the way, scoring three times apiece, while Blackmer added four RBIs in a busy day for the senior third baseman. Senior Braden Hallman did his usual damage at the plate, punching home three runs as well, while freshman Darren Daves and junior Miles Frost enjoyed multi-hit days for head coach Tim Passell’s squad.
Blackmer’s first RBI of the day came after LaMunyon drew a walk, then stole second, when Blackmer’s single pushed across the game’s first run.
In the second inning, Hallman reached on an error, then moved over on Frost’s walk and an infield hit from senior Lyle Carver to load the bases with no one out. Another Titan (25-1) error allowed Hallman to cross home, and the Panthers doubled their advantage.
The third inning produced another run, as Carver reached for a second time, this time via an RBI walk to score Blackmer.
Leading 3-0 after three innings, the Panthers erupted for five runs in the fourth to blow the game open as M-CHS batted around in the inning, with freshman Cory Carver starting the rally with a leadoff walk. The shortstop later scored on a Blackmer single, while Daves and Hallman posted back-to-back doubles to push the lead to 7-0. Frost added an RBI single to score Hallman, and the Panthers owned an eight-run lead at the midway point.
All the while, Frost took to the hill and steadily shut down a vaunted Coal Ridge offense to cue the rout. Frost collected a dozen punchouts on the mound, limiting the Titans to four hits in his complete game effort.
Carver and LaMunyon both walked and later scored in the fifth, as the Panthers cruised into the late innings. Freshman Parker Conrad scored his first varsity base hit in the game, while he and senior Gabriel Crowley combined for several grabs in the outfield to contribute to the defensive cause.
After a long travel day, the Panthers perhaps caught a break from Mother Nature, as their scheduled contest against No. 1 Eaton (26-0) was pushed back to Saturday on account of thunderstorms in northeast Colorado. The defending state champions rallied from a 4-0 deficit to down No. 25 Peak to Peak 20-4 in their opening round matchup.
LaMunyon gets the call to face the Reds at 12 p.m. on Saturday, May 27, with the winner moving within two victories of a state title.