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Montezuma-Cortez sweeps Bayfield, secures league crown

The Montezuma-Cortez Panthers clinched the 2024 3A Intermountain League championship Saturday at Bayfield. Montezuma-Cortez defeated the Wolverines 15-4 and 9-6 to finish 7-1 in IML play and improve to 14-8 overall with one regular-season game remaining. (Joel Priest/Special to The Journal)
‘I feel like our boys swung the bats really well,’ coach says

BAYFIELD – Written on the tape affixing head coach Clay Miller’s batting order to the storage cubbies inside Bayfield’s dugout Saturday morning, May 11, were two objectives: ‘2024 IML CHAMPS’ and ‘HAMMER Fastballs.’

Across the diamond, Montezuma-Cortez’s players and coaches weren’t thinking differently, and needing just a split of the doubleheader at Wolverine Field, they left no doubt about who would be the 3A Intermountain champs after hammering out 15-4 and 9-6 wins.

“I feel like our boys swung the bats really well; they had good approaches at the plate, and really scattered hits all over the park,” head coach Jake Huff said. “Overall it was a really good performance by our hitters.”

Montezuma-Cortez's Kolby Wirth cracks a single late in Game 1 of the Panthers' IML doubleheader Saturday. (Joel Priest/Special to The Journal)
Montezuma-Cortez's Darren Daves (25) scores a run during Game 1 of the Panthers' IML doubleheader Saturday at Bayfield. (Joel Priest/Special to The Journal)
Montezuma-Cortez's Cory Carver, right, beats Bayfield third baseman Micah Cornelia's tag on a close play at the hot corner during Game 1 of the Panthers' IML doubleheader Saturday at Bayfield. (Joel Priest/Special to The Journal)
Montezuma-Cortez's Connor Rosenbaugh pitches in relief during Game 1 of the Panthers' IML doubleheader Saturday in Bayfield. M-CHS defeated the Wolverines 15-4 and 9-6 to clinch the league title for 2024. (Joel Priest/Special to The Journal)

“We’ve got a pretty young team, so to see these young kids succeeding at this point early in their high school careers is really great,” he said. “It’s really important for these boys; they’ve worked hard and deserve to be champions today.”

“It feels really good,” said sophomore shortstop Cory Carver. “We started really hot, and starting off hot’s really important – especially in big games like this. After the rain delays and everything I felt like we kept great composure. We stayed focused and I think it really shows in the scores – especially at the end of the first game.”

“I feel like it was a team win,” sophomore outfielder Parker Conrad said. “There was not one person that carried the team; it was just a great effort by all.”

If one were to try singling out a Panther to praise, Conrad would have been a candidate for his Game 2 work, which included an RBI-groundout in the first inning, a two-RBI triple, a single and an RBI-single as he finished 3-for-4 with two runs scored.

Batting right after him, sophomore third baseman Darren Daves was deadly against Bayfield junior righty Cole Wagner (L; 5.2 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 4 BB, 6 K) and reliever Austin Wilmer (1.1 IP, H, 2 R, 2 K). After Conrad’s aforementioned groundout, Daves belted a triple and later scored via a wild Wagner pitch to designated hitter Michael Krupa. After Conrad’s third-inning triple, Daves smashed a two-run homer – increasing M-CHS’ lead to 6-0 – off Wagner to right-center.

And after Conrad’s RBI-single in the sixth, Daves dinged a triple to deep center, plating Conrad and putting Montezuma-Cortez (14-8 overall, 7-1 IML) up 8-0. Daves then pulled off a delayed steal of home plate between Wilmer pitches to Samson Lein, pinch-hitting for Krupa.

“It was a great feeling, and good for the team,” said Daves (3-4, 3 R, 3 RBI). “The whole team did their parts, and we stayed on it all game. They wanted to come out and beat us, so we just put our foot on the gas pedal and went.”

Able to get runners on base against junior starter Bobby Likes (W; 3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, BB, HB, 2 K) but unable to drive any in, the Wolverines (7-15 overall, 4-4 IML) came alive in the bottom of the sixth against sophomore Kallan Wirth and tallied six runs, four coming – via an RBI-single by Isaac Forsythe, a two-RBI single by Dante Candelaria (2-4, 2 RBI), and an RBI-single by Tavian Box – with two out.

Huff then called in freshman Jaiden Istenes to replace Wirth (2.2 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, HB), and after walking Wilmer, Istenes (0.1 IP) got Wagner to pop up to first baseman McDonald. And after the Panthers went scoreless in the top of the seventh, McDonald – the only lefty utilized in the closing contest – polished off M-CHS’ championship by striking Sean Ryan out looking, Brandon Anderson (1-4, R, RBI) swinging and Forsythe (2-4, 2B, R, 2 RBI) looking.

In Game 1, almost immediately paused for roughly an hour by a lightning delay accompanied by a brief rain/hailstorm, Montezuma-Cortez broke out to a 2-0 lead through one inning and went up 6-0 in the second before Bayfield answered with a run, then two more in the third.

M-CHS responded in force, however, putting up five runs in the top of the fourth inning and tacking on four more in the fifth – highlighted by a Lein RBI-double. BHS failed to reply in the bottom of the fifth and the game ended early by rule.

Lein ended up 2-for-2 with two walks, two runs scored and three batted in. Carver went 4-4 with a homer, four runs scored and two RBI. Conrad was 1-3 with a walk and three runs, Daves ended up 1-4 with a run and a ribbie, McDonald was 3-4 with two runs, and Krupa 1-4 with a double and three RBI.

Junior Seth Oakes (3 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 2 K) started on the mound and earned the win, with freshman Connor Rosenbaugh (2 IP, 2 H, ER, BB, 2 K) closing up shop.

“Oakes pitched really well,” Huff said. “Struggled at times but he never quit fighting and was able to get some big outs at big times. And then Connor came in and shut the door well.”

Carver ended up 2-4 in Game 2 with two runs scored, and McDonald went 2-4 with a double and two runs. Junior catcher Kolby Wirth, 2-3 with a double, sacrifice fly and two RBI in Game 1, went 0-2 in Game 2 but drew two walks.

“This year, honestly … we started off a little rough,” said Daves, “but we’ve battled back. We’ve won, like, six of our last seven – there’s been a good momentum boost.”

Up next, Montezuma-Cortez was to conclude regular-season action Tuesday evening, May 14, at home against slumping 4A Durango (8-14 overall), stuck in a torturous 10-game slide. Results were unavailable by press time.

“We’re going to go at it the same way: Forward,” said Conrad. “When everybody does their jobs, we do our best.”