Baseball Sports

All-League awards aplenty for IHS


Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

Valdez receives first COY award 

After leading Ignacio back to the Class 2A State Tournament’s Sweet 16 by blending a solid senior core with several emerging underclassmen, rookie skipper Isiah Valdez was named the 2A/1A San Juan Basin League’s Coach-of-the-Year. 

“It was a total team effort,” he said, prior to leaving Bob Smith Memorial Baseball Park in Limon following a season-ending loss to LHS in the Region I championship. “We started slow all season in some games but we always battled back. They just played hard; everybody wanted to win.” 

Ruling the SJBL in 2024 for a third consecutive year, the Bobcats finished 5-1 in league and 18-7 overall – including a Round-of-32 victory over Rye in the regional semifinals – after dealing with an unexpected preseason change at the top, from successful two-year leader Duke Baker (the league’s COY in ’23) to former assistant Valdez. 

Who knew he had to change very little on the diamond – not a good omen for IHS’ opponents. 

Senior Phillip Quintana was named a First Team All-SJBL pitcher, though his work behind the plate – especially as a mentor to sophomore heir apparent Gabe Archuleta (First Team catcher) – was also as valuable as his batting. Senior shortstop Devante Montoya earned First Team All-League infield, with senior first baseman Rylan Maez receiving Second Team. 

Sophomore Ambrose Valdez, IHS’ primary centerfielder this spring, was a First Team outfield selection along with freshman William Mendoza-Lechuga, the boss’ right-field anchor almost from day one. 

“We are graduating a lot of guys,” said Isiah Valdez, “but we’ve got a couple young guys coming up. Any time you can get these younger guys that are going to be here next year playoff experience, it’s always good moving forward.” 

Chosen to play in the June 11-14 Colorado High School Coaches Association All-State Games’ basketball tourney at CSU-Pueblo, Nucla senior Steele Arnold was not only a First Team All-SJBL (pitcher) selection, but also the loop’s Player-of-the-Year as NHS finished 8-12-1 overall and a third-place 2-4 in SJBL play. 

Fortunate to sneak into the 16-team Class 1A State Tournament as its No. 16 seed, the Mustangs’ season was swiftly ended by a 10-2 loss in Region I action to regional-hosting Merino. Nucla senior Hemmy O’Brien was also named First Team All-SJBL (designated hitter), as was sophomore Brycen Rummel (infield). 

Dove Creek senior Gage Buffington was named a First Team All-League infielder along with junior Sheldon Gardner. Senior Aiden Chadd was the other First Team outfielder, and senior Jonathan Purkat the First Team utility player. 

Senior Hunter Daves was named Second Team All-SJBL pitcher as DCHS (2-4 SJBL, second place) began the merry month of May having lost nine consecutive games and standing an unassuming 5-11 overall. The Bulldogs, however, finished 9-12 overall after suddenly winning four of their final five outings – including victories over both Antonito and Nucla in the 1A-District 1 playoffs, then a 12-1 rout of 12-seed Elbert in the 1A State Tournament’s opening Round-of-16, followed by a 5-4 upset of No. 4 Simla in the Region IV championship. 

Pit next against top-seeded Merino at All-Star Park in Lakewood, No. 5 Dove Creek’s luck finally ran out as the Rams rolled 20-1 in four innings upon Keli McGregor Field. MHS then edged 6-seed Akron 10-9 in the 5/16 grand finale, equaling AHS’ two seventh-inning runs with two of their own. Having lost on April 17 to Akron, Merino finished 19-6 overall and on a nine-game tear. Also nicknamed the Rams, Akron – which actually swept the 4/17 doubleheader at MHS – ended up 17-6. 

 

ALL SHE WROTE 

 

Saturday morning, June 1, the season came to an end with Denver Christian (24-4 overall) clipping initial Class 2A State Tournament favorite Limon (28-2) in the State Championship at CSUP’s Rawlings Field, 2 to 1. 

Montoya and Quintana were awarded Honorable Mention All-2A in the days after the grand finale. Arnold was a Second Team All-1A recipient, while Buffington, Chadd and Purkat were Honorable Mention All-1A picks. 

 

DID YOU KNOW 

 

Ignacio’s Senior Day 2024 doubleheader versus non-league Custer County took place on the 40th anniversary of the theatrical release of ‘The Natural.’ And though he may have been unaware of the unique calendar coincidence, Quintana had pulled something of a Roy Hobbs (the movie’s fictional slugger, portrayed by Robert Redford) in ’23. 

One of the SJBL’s most dangerous hitters, then-junior Quintana actually used a self-made wooden bat during IHS’ late-April twinbill – on Senior Day, in fact, with brother Eppie amongst the ’Cats honored – against non-league Sargent. And though no field lights were exploded, nor baseballs un-covered by any of his hacks taken with the stick, Phillip Quintana’s version of Hobbs’ ‘Wonderboy’ weapon didn’t go unnoticed. 

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