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Panthers softball sweeps Aspen, leads league standings

M-CHS softball senior Rylee Hickman talks with head coach Anthony "Hippo" Frost while standing on third base in a contest against Aspen. (Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal)
Kayce Tom’s perfect game, offense dominates twin bill

Nearing the midpoint of the 2022 regular season, the Montezuma-Cortez softball team has shown it has no intentions of sharing.

At least, not when it comes to the 3A Western Slope League title.

Last year, the Panthers settled for a split crown with Meeker, meaning their ambition this year is to take the top spot outright.

So far, so good for Anthony “Hippo” Frost’s Panthers, as M-CHS blitzed Aspen on Friday evening at Englehart Field in Cortez, requiring only seven total innings to defeat the Skiers via mercy-rule, 17-0 and 22-6.

Offense again ruled the day for the Panthers (10-1, 5-0 3A Western Slope), as they batted around the order in the first inning before recording a single out, ultimately scoring 13 runs. After adding four in the second inning, the Panthers turned their focus to the strong pitching of junior Kayce Tom.

The right-hander mowed through the Skiers’ order in the first, then fanned the side in the second, before capping the game with a three-up-three-down third inning to complete a mercy-rule shortened perfect game. Making her third appearance of the season, Tom’s perfecto included six strikeouts – a career high.

In the win, sophomore Aubrey Rutherford belted three hits – two for extra bases – as the Panthers collected 14 hits in just two innings. Every Panther hitter drove in at least one run, led by Rutherford and sophomore Kenzie Whipple’ with three.

Sophomores Devon Cornett and Emily Carver added two hits apiece as the Panthers saved their offense for a second explosion in the nightcap.

Aspen (0-8, 0-6 3A Western Slope) found some offense in the second contest, pushing across five runs in the first inning to put the Panthers on their heels briefly. Down 6-2 in the third, however, the Panthers got right back to where they left off.

Senior Rylee Hickman pounded a pair of triples and drove in three runs, and Cornett added four hits of her own in the second contest. Sophomore Julia West drove in another two runs for the Panthers, while senior Lizzie Likes scored four times.

Sophomores Trenity Tillahash and Nevaeh Istenes and senior Shea Fernandez accounted for two runs apiece as the Panthers rattled 19 hits, while scoring nine runs in the third inning and 11 runs in the fourth to push the game to the run limit.

Cornett pitched 3.2 innings to pick up her fifth win of the season, moving a record of 5-0 while striking out four Skiers in the victory.

The sweep keeps M-CHS perfect in league play, as Frost’s team prepares for a critical weekend ahead. The Panthers will hit the road to take on Gunnison and Meeker for a pair of doubleheaders this upcoming weekend, before returning home for a series of contests at the friendly confines of Englehart Field to wind down the regular season.

M-CHS enters the week with a half-game lead over Delta (11-4, 5-1 3A Western Slope) in the standings – the Panthers dealt Delta their lone league loss so far this season – with Meeker (5-6, 2-1 3A Western Slope) currently sitting in third place.