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Panthers open Cortez Tournament with win over Nucla

Montezuma-Cortez junior Trinidad McDonell delivers a pitch during his team's 18-1 victory over Nucla on May 15. McDonell pitched all five innings of the contest and allowed one earned run.
Trinidad McDonnell hammers strike zone, and M-CHS batters shine during 18-1 victory

After starting the season with losses against three tough non-conference foes, the Montezuma-Cortez High School baseball team appears to have found its groove after two consecutive impressive wins.

The Panthers’ latest victory came in their opening game of the Cortez Tournament, when they took the field and fired on all cylinders during a resounding 18-1 victory over Nucla High School on May 14.

Junior Trinidad McDonell started on the mound for the Panthers and consistently hammered the strike zone while allowing four hits and one earned run. He pitched all five innings of the mercy-rule shortened game.

Although McDonell only struck out two batters, his ability to mix well-located fastballs with off-speed pitches kept Nucla hitters on their heels and resulted in several week ground balls in the direction of M-CHS infielders.

“I had only (two) strikeouts the whole game because I knew that they were really good hitters,” McDonnel said. “I knew I needed to pitch outs, and my defense backed me up greatly.”

While the Panthers pitching and defense shown bright in the top of each inning, the team’s bats were consistent and effective and the bottom half of every frame as the team cranked out 14 hits against Nucla’s overmatched pitching staff.

Montezuma-Cortez senior Ernie Padilla catches a fly ball to center field during his team's victory over Nucla.

Among M-CHS’ offensive leaders were senior Korie Likes, sophomore Evan LaMunyon and sophomore Braden Hallman, who each drove in three runs on the afternoon. Senior Dylan Kibel, sophomore Jake Blackmer, senior Ty Blackmer, junior John Carver and McDonell also drove in runs for the Panthers.

“We just had to sit back and wait on (the ball) and drive it, and that’s what we did,” McDonell said. “The first couple of swings we were out in front, but once we saw it, we jumped on it.”

While M-CHS players stressed that much work remains in spite of their big win, they emphasized that their group is quickly gaining confidence and momentum as it moves through the early stages of what many expect will be a successful season.

“Those first (three games), we were getting the rust off,” McDonell said. “No excuses, but (Montrose, Aztec and Battle Mountain) had played a bunch of games. We were finding our grooves, and we’ve found them now.”

Shifting their focus to their team’s second game of the Cortez Tournament, which will take place against Dove Creek at McAndrew Field on May 15, M-CHS catcher Braden Hallman expressed hope that his team’s recent run of success will continue.

“Our win over Nucla was a huge confidence booster,” Hallman said. “We were 1-3 in the past few weeks and this was another win that makes two in a row. We will continue to take lots of BP and stay focused in practice.”

Montezuma-Cortez senior Ty Blackmer prepares to fire the ball across the diamond after fielding a grounder to shortstop.