Fri May 27th, 2016
Special to the Drum
No matter how impressive a second go-round with Western Slope League force Hotchkiss was – a 4-3, extra-innings loss in the 2A-District 2 semifinals on May 14, as compared to a 12-2 drubbing back in mid-March – for upstart Ignacio, it somehow wasn’t enough to sway the selectors in far-off Aurora to include the Bobcats in the 16-team Class 2A State Tournament bracket.
Which was supposed to have been seeded with not only the eight district winners, but eight wild-card crews determined by the Colorado High School Activities Association’s first-year RPI points system – a strength-of-schedule formula something similar in conception to the NCAA’s postseason basketball methodology.
But like in ‘March Madness,’ in which teams undeserving of higher seeding (or seeding at all) sometimes get the gold mine, others – borrowing words from the 1982 Jerry Reed song – get the shaft. And to those teams, ‘RPI’ isn’t an abbreviation for Rating Percentage Index; it stands for Really. Poor. Idea.
IHS has a legitimate claim to being one of those spurned squads.
“It was kind of a different year, with the system they’re using,” said La Jara Centauri head coach Devin Smith, whose Falcons fell 13-11 at IHS Field on April 21, but were still chosen to compete in the Class 3A State Tournament’s initial Round-of-32 (as the No. 29 seed) despite a sub-par 8-10 regular-season record. “Not really happy with the way that went, you know.”
After a 5-4 loss to top-ranked Paonia in the D-2 finale, HHS (then 17-2) was granted wild-card status, re-seeded No. 5 in the Round-of-16, and faced 12-seed Peyton (16-3) on Andenuccio Field at the Runyon Complex in Pueblo. Still owning the 1-seed, Paonia (then 20-1) squared off with No. 16 Sargent on Hobbs Field.
By seed numbers not yet mentioned, with records at time of selection in parentheses, also included were:
Julesburg-Ovid Revere Sedgwick County (20-1), Swink (15-5), Wiley-McClave County Line (14-5), Rocky Ford (13-5), Loveland Resurrection Christian (12-7), Akron (17-5), Ordway Crowley County (13-7), Haxtun (15-6), Lafayette Dawson School (14-4), Limon (16-4), Greeley Dayspring Christian (13-4), Rye (16-3).
But therein lie the system’s flaws, with Ignacio not the only team victimized.
In CHSAA’s updated RPI rankings, released the day after district-tournament play, IHS (14-5) was on pins and needles as the on-the-bubble No. 17 with a 0.528795 figure. Granted, that alone wouldn’t have been high enough to grant the Cats inclusion in a 16-team mix. But when the mathematics weren’t actually the prime-determining factor as intimated by the Association, it could have been.
Littleton Front Range Christian was the No. 16 at 0.547827 and also was not awarded a wild-card berth. Neither was No. 15 Yuma (0.551077). By comparison, Rye was a weaker 19th (0.501988) and Sargent a much weaker 26th (0.480690). Based solely on RPI, Fowler’s 23rd-best 0.487158 mark would have even made the 4-13 Grizzlies a more appropriate choice than the [then] 17-2 Farmers.
Surviving into the May 28 ‘Final Four,’ still seeking the State Championship – to be contested later that day – are Paonia (now 22-1), Limon (18-4), Dawson School (16-4) and Sedgwick County (22-1). Both Rye – the defending State Champions – and Sargent were eliminated on Day 1 (5/20) by their higher-seeded opponents, while County Line’s Rivals, Swink’s Lions and Rocky Ford’s Meloneers were all Round-of-16 upset casualties.
Though it’s not wise to look past an opponent, the Bobcats had to like their chances against Cedaredge in the District 2 Tournament’s opening quarterfinals, having belted the Bruins 19-9 earlier this season. And on neutral ground in Cortez, Ignacio’s incredible one-year improvement continued with a 7-3 victory.
Senior Anthony Manzanares and sophomore Kruz Pardo led the way offensively, with each going 2-for-4. Senior Austin McCaw was 2-3, and classmates Tucker Ward, Chance Hine, Joe Herrera and Andrew Martinez were each 1-3 and each also scored one run.
Throwing only 82 pitches, Ward earned a seven-inning, complete-game win on the mound for the San Juan Basin League champs, allowing only three hits and one earned run while posting a solid 7:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against CHS (12-8) – which had reached the quarters by ousting Rangely (0-17) by an identical four-run margin.
Having faced Hotchkiss sophomore Jonathan Gonzales at season’s start, IHS didn’t see senior ace Cesar Gonzales in the semis, but instead got junior Eli Kirk and managed a Manzanares run in the top of the first – a lead which held until Bulldogs Parker Katzdorn and Cesar Gonzales (playing shortstop) scored in the third.
HHS put across one more in the sixth, but Pardo and Ward came in for the Cats and the inning ended with the teams unexpectedly deadlocked at 3-3. Hotchkiss threatened in the seventh against an inspired Zach Weinreich, with sophomore Chase Hiatt smacking a two-out double, but Ignacio held and the clash went into ‘overtime.’
Pardo led off the Bobcats’ eighth with a single but Ward (2-4), who’d doubled each of his previous two at-bats, flew out to center, and McCaw and Weinreich both went down on strikes. Knowing they might not be as fortunate should Ignacio bat again, the Dogs unfortunately capitalized.
With one out, freshman Presley Pene singled off McCaw – put on the hill after Weinreich lasted seven strong innings. Katzdorn went down swinging, but after Gonzales (2-3, R, 2 BB) drew a walk, senior Cole Carvill (1-5, 2 RBI) singled in the winning run, giving Jonathan Gonzales – who’d taken over for Kirk (ND; 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K) after the starter went six – the ‘W’ in relief.
Manzanares went 0-3 with a walk and run in defeat, and junior Timmy Plehinger was 1-3.
McCaw (0.2 IP, 2 H, ER, BB, 2 K) took the ‘L’ for IHS, and Weinreich (7 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, BB, 7 K) joined Kirk in taking a no-decision. But as fate would have it, the Bobcats – with eight more wins than in 2015 – would soon receive a ND much, much more cruel … the worst of the sort.