Duke finally gets his due

Ignacio Baseball head coach Duke Baker was recently named the 2A/1A San Juan Basin League's Coach-of-the-Year. The Bobcat varsity has posted a 29-17 overall record – including an 8-4 mark in SJBL play with two league titles – during his first two seasons at the helm.
Ignacio's Devante Montoya leads off third base during action at IHS Field versus Sargent. He was recently named First Team All-San Juan Basin League.
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

It’s not uncommon for, say, an Academy Award to be given to an actor seemingly to atone for a previous snub, leaving interested Oscar observers to comment like ‘Really? He/She won for this? She/He was better in that!’ 

And to no surprise, sports recognitions are no exception; present-day Denver Nuggets fans, for example – and there’s certainly plenty in southwestern Colorado – will always wonder how in the heck Nikola Jokic wasn’t named the National Basketball Association’s Most Valuable Player this season, when he both incredibly improved upon last winter’s MVP-winning work and helped bring a Larry O’Brien Trophy at last to the Mile High City. 

Similar situations arise even at the high-school level, one just recently in baseball within the Colorado High School Activities Association’s underrated Class 2A/1A San Juan Basin League. But though the fact Ignacio’s Duke Baker was deserving but ultimately denied Coach-of-the-Year in 2022, the decision to recognize him in ’23 wasn’t made as an apology. 

Proving that last spring’s reversal of fortune was no fluke, IHS’ second-year boss motivated his reloading varsity to successfully defend its SJBL championship, and nearly return to not only the CHSAA Class 2A State Tournament but to its ‘Sweet 16’ stage. Unexpectedly upset in the opening Round-of-32 by Wray, Baker’s Bobcats still followed up their 15-8 finish in ’22 by going 14-9 in 2023, and again went 4-2 in league play. 

And did so not only with at least two freshmen (Ambrose Valdez, Stoney White Thunder) quickly emerging as reliable starters, but most impressively without the loop’s reigning Player-of-the-Year after Jacob Gallegos moved out of state. 

“Another two stepped up, came in and did what I expect of them,” Baker had said during the season, of his young and ready duo. “The one thing I emphasize to (all) these boys is, ‘Play the game and have fun!’ Whatever happens, happens; baseball’s supposed to be fun. And they came out…and they shined.” 

Though denied POY by the vote, Eppie Quintana’s shine was plenty fine; the senior pitcher/catcher/infielder repeated as a First Team All-SJBL pick – saluted primarily for his work on the mound, along with Dove Creek senior Cole Taber (who received the POY for his all-around effort at no fewer than four positions) and junior Gage Buffington, plus Nucla senior P.J. Hulst. 

Second Team All-League last season, junior catcher Phillip Quintana wielded a bat often hotter than even his brother’s, solidified himself as Baker’s primary No. 2 pitching option, plus again provided the team with essential stability behind home plate en route to also being named First Team. 

Junior first baseman Rylan Maez was again voted First Team along with classmate Devante Montoya, effectively converted from a centerfielder into IHS’ shortstop (as well as a No. 3 or 4 hurler) for games when Eppie Quintana was either on the hill or behind the dish, but also in games where Quintana joined him on the left side of the infield – allowing Baker and his assistants to begin testing and developing more pitching arms for the future. 

Usually stationed out in right field, either as a starter or a reserve, Ignacio junior Elliott Hendren was a First Team All-League choice, while White Thunder (pitcher/third base) and junior Marcus Maez (second base) received Second Team nods. 

“I threw Elliott in the outfield and he didn’t skip a beat,” said Baker. “Caught the flies hit to him and hit the ball like he’d been hitting (last) year – he’s picked it up a lot.” 

“Devante, Eppie, Phillip and Rylan really started picking up the younger players,” he continued, “and it’s really showing. I love watching this team when they play that kind of ball.” 

“Duke’s great,” Phillip Quintana had said previously. “We want to play for him; (he) just makes you confident out there.” 

Rounding out the SJBL’s honored players, DCHS sophomore Sheldon Gardner and NHS freshman Brycen Rummel were named First Team as infielders, while DCHS juniors Aiden Chadd and Taber DeJane earned First Team distinction as an outfielder and utility player, respectively. 



Nucla ended up 11-10 overall – following a 5-0 win over McClave and a 9-0 loss to Westminster Flatirons Academy in the 16-team Class 1A State Tournament’s Great Eight phase – but 1-5 in league. Dove Creek, meanwhile, fell 10-0 to Simla in the Round-of-16, and finished 11-9 overall. The Bulldogs matched Ignacio’s 4-2 SJBL mark, but lost twice in three tries against the ’Cats. 

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