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Panthers baseball primed for an encore

After record-breaking 2023, Montezuma-Cortez brings back wealth of talent
Seen sharing a laugh with Lyle Carver (7) in Greeley prior to Class 3A State Tournament action against Eaton, Montezuma-Cortez's Miles Frost (23) was plenty happy about the Panthers' performance in 2023. (Joel Priest/Special to The Journal)

CORTEZ – Just like the ‘ping’ of aluminum meeting a fastball, the memory of Montezuma-Cortez’s epic 2023 baseball season still resonates as the new season shows great promise.

While the Panthers said goodbye to an influential collection of now-graduated seniors, an eager group of rising leaders look to take the helm this spring and help Montezuma-Cortez remain one of Class 3A’s top teams.

The memory of the on-field dogpile celebration that sent the Panthers to their first ever regional title and inaugural state tournament appearance is still strong, as is the desire to repeat history.

A trio of seniors will lead the charge for eighth-year coach Tim Passell. Dual threat Miles Frost, who posted school record numbers with ERA and strikeouts a season ago while also showcasing power at the plate, returns this spring. Classmates Dean York and Cash Clark will see elevated roles for the orange and black.

“The expectations for this year’s group is to continue the path that last year’s group established for us,” Passell said. “We expect last year’s experience to provide the hunger for this younger program to be just as successful, not just this year, but for many years to come.”

A robust junior class joins the three seniors, with a variety of on-field and batting order vacancies now up for grabs among rising upperclassmen.

Class of 2025 team members Kolby Wirth, Samson Lein and Bobby Likes all gained reps last year, and they look to take on full-time roles for the Panthers’ offensive arsenal. Fellow junior Seth Oakes appears primed to take the ball for the pitching staff.

“These guys, not just our upperclassmen, have been putting in the time in the offseason that will help push each other, which is only going to make us better,” Passell said.

All-state players Cory Carver and Darren Daves burst on to the scene as freshmen. With a year of high school baseball under their belts, the duo now looks to take the next step this season.

Classmates Parker Conrad, who made an impact in last year’s regional title run, joins Jaris McDonald and Bodie Stiegelmeyer among the wave of underclassmen looking to emerge in the rotation.

The Panthers broke the school record with 22 wins and shared the league title with Bayfield last spring, feats that they would love to duplicate this season.

“We’re going to be an exciting team to watch,” Passell said. “We’re going to be looking to put pressure on defenses, and have a bunch of arms in the pitching staff that we can go rolling with.”

Montezuma-Cortez hopes to turn McAndrew Field into a labyrinth for opponents this year, much like a year ago when the Panthers scarcely dropped a game on their home field.

The Panthers won’t waste any time seeing top tier competition this spring.

“Our successes last year brought on higher-caliber teams reaching out to be on our schedule, so we will be put to the test early and that will help push us back to the top,” Passell said.

The Panthers faced off against some strong mid-size Utah programs this past Friday and Saturday, facing in Emery, Grand County, North Summit and San Juan, to kick off the 2024 campaign.

The Panthers will play in their home opener 2 p.m. Thursday against Chinle.

From there, Montezuma-Cortez will travel to Pueblo and Carbondale in late March and early April for more nonleague tests, then start Intermountain League play April 13 at Pagosa Springs.

The regular season concludes with a home rivalry game against Durango on May 14. Postseason action begins the following weekend.

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