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State-ranked Panthers closing in on league title

Riley Hickman (No. 6) congratulates Koral Jackson after Jackson turned a double into a home run on an overthrown ball against Delta. (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)
M-CHS softball faces Meeker with 3A WSL on the line

There’s no coincidence that the past four years of Panther softball success has materialized under the leadership of its four-year leaders. Under the tutelage of a string of senior groups, this year’s upperclassmen have carried the torch for Montezuma-Cortez softball to the brink of another league title and postseason run.

In a year that carries special undertones with the revival of historic Englehart Field, the 2021 edition of Panther softball has added a whole new layer to the history of the program.

M-CHS (12-4, 6-0 3A WSL), ranked No. 8 in the 3A classification in the most recent CHSAA coaches poll, moved one step closer to a 3A Western Slope League crown with a doubleheader sweep of Delta, 17-13 and 14-6.

Senior Taiah Wilson, who has been a major contributor to the Panthers’ success in all four years in orange-and-black, has remained as one of the most feared dual threats in the classification, beating teams with her arm and her bat.

Pitcher Taiah Wilson winds up to let go of a pitch Friday. Wilson was the winning pitcher as the Panthers beat Delta 17-13. (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)

Trailing 7-0 in the early innings against Delta, Wilson and the Panther bats came to life in the bottom of the second, plating eight runs to take the lead. The Panthers would add two more in the third inning and five runs in the fourth to hold off Delta in a shootout.

Seniors Koral Jackson and Hailey Veach, and sophomore Kaycee Tom exploded in the opener, combining for eight hits and eight RBIs to spur the Panthers rally.

In the second half of the doubleheader, the Panthers had to rally a second time, trailing 5-4 heading to the M-CHS half of the fourth inning. Anthony “Hippo” Frost’s squad would score in each of their next three innings, to close out the visiting Panthers and stay perfect in league play.

Wilson had multihit games in both halves of the doubleheader, with two in the first contest, and three in the second. She also recorded the final couple outs in the second game, which had been controlled for 6.1 innings by junior Lizzie Likes.

Koral Jackson slides into second base Friday afternoon on the way to a 17-13 win over Delta for the Panthers. (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)
The ball bounces off Haley Veach as she slides safely into third base Friday. The Panthers beat Delta in the first game 17-13. (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)

Likes would add a couple of multihit performances of her own, reaching base safely six times over the course of both games, with four doubles to her credit.

Senior Brianna Comisky drove in four runs and scored five times in the sweep, while junior Rylee Hickman collected five hits and five runs herself.

M-CHS’ success against Delta came without one of their most prolific weapons, senior Allie Kibel, in action.

The Panthers offense has been brilliant all season, scoring 10-plus runs in 11 of their 16 games, all of which ended in M-CHS victories. Wilson has put herself in the pole position for league player of the year, as she has amassed a .516 batting average, along with pacing the team with hits (33), extra-base hits (14), and RBIs (30).

As a unit, M-CHS has been giving opposing pitching fits, reaching base at a .445 on-base percentage, drawing 67 walks compared to only 51 strikeouts. After reaching base, the Panthers have swiped 60 bags this season, led by Kibel’s 21 steals.

The sweep over Delta means that this weekend’s home doubleheader against Meeker (6-7, 6-0 3A WSL), the other league unbeaten, at Englehart Field comes with huge league and postseason implications.

Meeker enters with one of the toughest bats in the league, junior Reagan Hafey, along with a streak of six wins in their last seven outings.

The Panthers and Cowgirls will face off at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 2, with the league’s top spot hanging in the balance.