Someone was bound to do it; Ignacio unfortunately were the ones having to ‘hail Cesar.’
Facing Hotchkiss’ dominant junior right-hander Cesar Gonzalez in the 2A-District 2 Tournament semifinals up at Delta Middle School, the Bobcats fell victim to an eight-run Bulldog breakout in the bottom of the third inning, and managed just one hit in seeing their emerging season reach its end, 14 to 0.
“Hotchkiss is a great team,” said senior Alex Lopez, who was set to bat one last time as a high-schooler when young Ruger Valdez was unable to beat out third baseman Dominic Beck’s throw to first for the final out.
“Even with the score I feel we did pretty good against them,” Lopez said. “We could have fixed a few things, but really it was a solid game against just a real solid team.”
“We ran into a pitcher,” quipped IHS pitching coach Clay Miller. “And some hitters.”
But only HHS centerfielder Devan Rupe – the winning pitcher in the teams’ previous postseason clash, in 2013 at the site – managed anything offensively early, in the form of a two-out, two-run homer to the short left-field fence in the bottom of the first off Juanito Medina (L; 2.2 IP, 6 H, 8 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, HB, 0 K).
Ignacio’s Tucker Ward had been able to reach on a Beck error in the top half, and Timmy Plehinger drew Gonzalez’s only base-on-balls in the visitors’ second. Gonzalez (W; 4 IP, H, BB, HB, 10 K) managed to strand both, and after fanning Medina, leadoff ’Cat Tyler Beebe and Nathan Herrera to quickly complete the top of the third, set off a decisive six-run, two-out spree with an RBI-single in the home half.
Leftfielder Cole Carvill finished it with a two-RBI double off IHS senior Iaasic Pena, initially brought in to spell Medina when the score was still moderately close at 6-0.
But after getting Rupe (1-2, BB, 2 R) to pop foul to Herrera, ending the inning, Pena (0.1 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 3 ER, BB, 0 K) was immediately tagged for the game’s last four runs in Hotchkiss’ fourth. Designated hitter Mitch McCurdy (2-2, 2 R, 3 RBI) cleared the bases with a long triple to left, then scored on a groundout to second by 9-man Chase Hiatt off new pitcher Zach Weinreich (IP, H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 K).
Shortstop Tucker Ward, enjoying an outstanding morning/afternoon split doubleheader, denied Gonzalez a no-hitter with a fourth-inning single up the middle. Pena then wore the last of numerous bean balls pelting him throughout his prep career, putting Bobcats at first and second, but Gonzalez struck out Austin McCaw and Andrew Martinez to quash the uprising.
Both had been key to IHS’ 6-2 defeat of Meeker in the tourney’s rain-delayed opener, with McCaw scoring twice as well as crushing an RBI-double to plate Pena in the bottom of the fourth, and Martinez providing constant upbeat chatter while defending first base and in the dugout.
“I’m glad we came out with a good attitude, able to hit the ball and play great defense,” Martinez said. “Attitude means a lot to us on this team – if we put a head down, one player…we need ’em all! We needed a good attitude to win this game.”
“Yeah we were pretty charged up,” said McCaw (1-3, 2 R, RBI). “We haven’t won a district game in…years, so we wanted to come here and get a win and…try to take it to the next game.”
With HHS awaiting the Bobcats-Cowboys winner, Ignacio managed a Ward run in the first, via a Pena RBI-single, and a Medina run (he’d stolen third base, then dashed home when catcher Ty Gibson’s throw went high and into left) in the third, before McCaw’s knock and subsequent walk to Martinez brought about the end of MHS starting lefty Logan Hughes (L; 3+ IP, 2 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K).
Ward, meanwhile, did not allow a hit until Matthew Frantz singled in the top of the sixth, and lost the shutout when Meeker courtesy runner Tony Collins (running for Gibson, who’d singled) and centerfielder Doak Mantle (who’d also singled) both scored with two outs.
But in closing out a complete-game win with style, Ward (7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, HB, 11 K) retired Frantz (3 IP, H, 2 R, ER, 4 BB, 4 K) – who’d allowed McCaw and Martinez to reach and score in the bottom of the sixth – swinging with two Cowboys still aboard.
“Tucker did a great job today…went through all seven, pitched a hell of a good game,” Martinez (0-1, 2 BB) said. “And we all backed him up – can’t do much better! Glad we got the ‘W.’”
“It’s way easier to pitch when you know there’s guys behind you that can make the play,” agreed Ward, who ended his junior season with an impressive 21 K’s in his last two starts for boss Bert Miller.
Pena, who started the game at shortstop, went 1-3 with a run and a ribbie, and Plehinger and Medina each drove in one run despite going a combined 0-3 with three walks (each also reached once on an error).
“We haven’t been able to get a win here for a good while, and it feels pretty good,” Lopez said. “For us it’s a pretty big deal. We had tremendous growth [this season], went from making small mistakes to almost none, and…I don’t know – just great improvements everywhere!”
“We’re coming out with a new sense that we know we can win,” said Ward (1-2, BB, 2B), eagerly anticipating the squad’s mostly-intact 2016 return. “What we have now is how we’re going to win games!”
Ignacio finished 6-13 overall, as did Meeker. Hotchkiss, meanwhile, improved to 19-2 after blanking IHS and then eliminating Delta County arch-rival Paonia (17-5) in the next morning’s championship game to advance to the 2A State Championship Series.