First-week ‘gauntlet’ gets best of Bobcats

Ignacio's Eppie Quintana pitches during season-opening play Tues., March 15, at IHS Field against Bayfield.
Ignacio's Phillip Quintana tags out Bayfield's Jackson Queen short of home plate during season-opening play Tues., March 15, at IHS Field.
Ignacio's Jacob Gallegos beats the tag and steals second base Sat., March 19, at Nucla during IHS' first road game of the 2022 season.
Ignacio Baseball head coach Duke Baker cracks a joke with Nucla head coach Randy Gabriel prior to the teams' March 19 clash at NHS. Baker took over this spring for predecessor Don Hayes.
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

Having already hosted both Bayfield, the Class 3A rankings’ top ‘Others Receiving Votes’ squad, and 2A/1A San Juan Basin League rival Dove Creek, ranked No. 7 in 1A, during the week, first-year Ignacio head coach Duke Baker knew his Bobcats had their work cut out for them if they were to start Spring Break passing their first road test. 

But despite putting several hard-hit balls into play Saturday, March 19, at Nucla, IHS managed only leadoff hitter Devante Montoya’s game-opening unearned run offensively in an error-plagued, 11-1 mercy-rule loss to the Mustangs, ranked No. 4 in 1A as they made their 2022 debut. 

“Well, we got through that gauntlet,” joked Baker, his young varsity still not at full strength. “My thing – my philosophy – about baseball is if you’re not having fun, you’re not playing the game the right way. That’s what I’ve instilled in these boys this whole time; they’ve just got to get to where they’re having fun and the game will come. That’s the way it is.” 

Edged 9-7 by DCHS just two days earlier, IHS (0-3, 0-2 SJBL) started well in distant western Montrose County, with leadoff man Devante Montoya reaching via an error by second baseman Jake Hulst, then taking second base via a wild Carson Gardner pitch to Zane Olguin. Olguin would soon chase a high heater for the first out and the righty Gardner then froze Jacob Gallegos for the second, but Phillip Quintana managed to beat out an infield single down the third-base line. 

Montoya (0-3, R) advanced to third on the hit, then hustled home as first baseman Brayden Magallon’s return throw to the hot corner missed Josh Flint’s glove. Bobcat Nate Hendren was then hit by a pitch, but Eppie Quintana bounced to Flint and was retired 5-3 at first. 

With seven seniors in uniform, Nucla (1-0, 1-0) hurriedly responded, with catcher Jarret Sinks’ lead single to left and Flint’s RBI-double the same direction highlighting a five-run counterstrike before Eppie Quintana appeared to find his groove. After fanning both Gage Owen and P.J. Hulst, he managed to strand Joseph Casillas at second by getting 9-hole hitter Josh Alexander to ground out to shortstop Gallegos. 

Working quickly through the bottom of the second, Quintana (L; 7 H, 11 R, 6 ER, 4 BB, 6 K) whiffed Sinks and 2-stick Steele Arnold, then got Flint to pop up to the mound. But after Gardner (W; 4 IP, 2 BB, 2 HB, 6 K) led off the home half of the third inning reaching on second baseman Marcus Maez’s error, disaster struck. 

Magallon then singled to left, and after Owen flew out to right fielder Elliot Hendren, P.J. Hulst singled that-a-way, plating Gardner’s courtesy runner Hemmy O’Brien (2 R). After what Baker later termed a ‘snowball fight,’ meaning multiple throwing errors during the same play, both Magallon (2-2, BB, 3 R) and Hulst (1-2, BB, 2 R, RBI) would also score. Still battling, Quintana managed to retire five of the next six Mustangs he faced as the fourth frame would conclude with Nucla ahead 8-1. 

NHS head coach Randy Gabriel elected to replace Gardner on the hill with P.J. Hulst for the visitors’ fifth, and Hulst promptly struck out Olguin and Gallegos. Phillip Quintana (1-2, HBP) then reached on an Arnold error in center and quickly stole second base, but Hulst got Nate Hendren (0-2, HBP) swinging to quash the threat. 

Magallon got the bottom of the fifth underway singling to left, then swiftly swiped both second and third bases with Owen at bat. Owen would strike out, but not before a wild pitch allowed Magallon to score. Hulst then drew a walk and stole both second and third with Casillas up, and Casillas would also walk. 

A wild pitch to Alexander gave passage home to Hulst, and after Casillas (0-1, 2 BB) stole second, he would come all the way home after another wild delivery – Eppie Quintana’s 106th pitch in a complete-game effort – to Alexander, barely beating Quintana’s tag at the plate. 

The Bobcats will next see action Sat., April 2, when Westcliffe-based Custer County comes to town for a non-league doubleheader beginning at 11 a.m. 

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