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Panthers baseball team bows out of regional tournament

M-CHS falls to Delta in tournament opener, 15-4

PARKER – In a season that has been a microcosm of the 2020-21 athletic calendar, Montezuma-Cortez baseball on Monday capped off a roller coaster season – full of both excitement and adversity – with yet another trip to the 3A regional tournament.

Taking on a Delta squad that ousted the Panthers from their most recent regional appearance, M-CHS was unable to exact revenge against their Western Slope League foe, as Delta picked up a 15-4 victory to end the Panthers’ season.

Montezuma-Cortez (8-8, 5-3 3A Intermountain League) made their third trip to the 3A postseason in the past four years under the tutelage of head coach Tim Passell.

The transition to Passell’s guidance coincided with a transition from the Southwestern League to the Intermountain League, and a strong core of players have yielded a drastic shift in the Panthers’ success on the diamond. After winning a total of six league contests over the previous decade prior to Passell’s emergence, the Panthers have gone 16-22 in the 3A IML over the past four seasons.

Likewise, the Panthers capped off a .500 season for the second time in four years, sending off a quartet of influential seniors in the process.

Montezuma-Cortez senior Ty Blackmer delivers a pitch while playing for the Cortez Freedom Cats last summer. Blackmer signed a National Letter of Intent to play college baseball for City Valley State University next season. (The Journal file

Ty Blackmer played a headlining role for the Panthers in his final season for the orange-and-black, as he has found his way onto the lineup card in various roles ever since he first stepped foot into the high school. Batting just a shade below .500 in his final year, Blackmer dazzled defensively from his shortstop position, and gave opposing offenses fits when it was his turn in the pitching rotation.

Classmate Dylan Kibel proved to be the quintessential table-setter for the Panther offense, leading off and finishing just behind Blackmer in almost every offensive statistical category.

Montezuma-Cortez senior Dylan Kibel rounds the bases while playing for the Cortez Freedom Cats club baseball team last fall. Kibel will compete as a member of the Valley City State university baseball team beginning next fall.

Ernie Padilla served as the go-to pitcher in Passell’s rotation, as he chewed up innings for the Panthers, leading the team in strikeouts and innings pitched. Meanwhile, Korie Likes provided another steady bat and solid glove in the field for the Panthers.

The Panthers earned a postseason berth in a more stringent qualification process, as only 24 teams were selected for this year’s 3A regional tournament. M-CHS entered as the No. 16 seed, and faced off against the No. 17 Delta Panthers, the third-place squad out of the Western Slope League. In a regional hosted by top-seeded Lutheran, M-CHS would have to run the gauntlet against two of the state’s most prolific offenses in order to keep their season alive.

Delta cut the Panthers short of that goal, as their offense got going early, bouncing M-CHS from the field. Delta would advance to take on the host Lions, where they would fall 10-3 in the regional championship game, meaning Lutheran would move on to the state tournament, which is set to begin on June 18, and running until a champion is crowned on the weekend of June 25-26.

Ernie Padilla delivers a pitch against Centauri during a victory earlier this season. (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)