Moffat County baseball splits with Delta in heavy-hitting doubleheader
For Craig Press
The season record may have taken a hit for Moffat County High School baseball, but the way the Bulldogs were swinging, the highlights were plentiful in win and loss alike.
MCHS went 1-1 Saturday in a home doubleheader with Delta, a set that saw the Dogs experience their first defeat on their home field this spring as well as a determined comeback to follow.
The day started well, as MoCo took an early lead courtesy of a towering home run by senior Krece Papierski. His fourth dinger so far this season cleared not only the back fence, but also adjacent Colorado Highway 13.
“That must have been about 300 feet in the air at that point,” head coach Brian Jennings said of the shot soaring over the left field wall.
Despite the Moffat County energy, the Panthers struck back again and again until they were ahead 9-3 by the top of the fifth inning. A flurry of Bulldogs crossing the plate made it 9-6 to head into the sixth, but neither side would score again that round.
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MCHS looked primed to tie it up late in the game, with juniors Carson Miller and Daniel Running on base and senior Greg Spears up to bat, but a deep fly ball was abruptly nabbed by Delta’s outfielder to close the game.
The disappointing score was one that Bulldog coaches emphasized to athletes they’d need to get amped up to not repeat.
“It’s really easy to lose one game,” Jennings said. “Good teams can win 15-0, but great teams, when they play other great teams, can find ways to win after a loss, coming back and fighting hard.”
The latter game saw some Panther momentum remaining, as Delta racked up three early runs. But, by the third inning, the Bulldogs were back in business, catching up slowly but surely by cutting the Delta lead in half at 4-2.
Derrick Squires started the first game on the mound, while Ryan Peck began the second, with Hunter Smilanich relieving each of them, the trio amassing 18 total strikeouts.
Squires spent most of the day in center field, making two crucial leaping catches midway through the second game.
“That line drive, I took a step back and it crawled up on me, so I had to jump. It was pretty difficult,” Squires said. “The key for the second game was to come out like a new day and leave the past in the past, and we managed to do that.”
Things truly got in gear by the fourth inning as MoCo pulled in front 6-4. But the Panthers battled back to make it 6 apiece in the sixth — and a particularly eerie scoreboard.
From there, Smilanich started the rally with a double, and, shortly after, he, Squires, and Papierski were crossing the plate.
“That’s how we win ball games is with that energy,” Smilanich said.
Carson Miller then brought home Peck, catching a down-the-middle fastball just right to knock it out of the park.
“It was inside, and I just turned on it,” Miller said.
As Miller was greeted at the plate by Peck and Easton Eckroth, his teammates tossed him the ceremonial home run hammer that had previously been swung only by Papierski and Peck.
“He’s a big strong kid, and he can hit it over the fence when he really squares it up,” Jennings said of Miller. “He was able to put barrel to ball, and that’s what happens.”
Though they were undaunted by the earlier homer of the day, Delta players couldn’t recover from the five Bulldog runs that came in the sixth inning, going scoreless in the finale to give MCHS the 11-6 victory.
“We should have won two games today, but that’s a great team and a great coach,” Jennings said. “Defense wasn’t quite there in the first game, so we kind of slipped, but in the second game, we made the plays that we had to.”
The Saturday games left the Bulldogs with a 10-2 overall record and a 6-2 total in the 3A Western Slope League, the second-best win-loss numbers in the conference.
The initial loss to Delta caused the Bulldogs to slide a bit in the RPI standings, which help determine playoff teams, but MoCo remains in the top 10 to stay in the postseason conversation.
And, while Gunnison is ranked higher in both RPI and the league numbers, the Bulldogs are the only opponent to have handed the Cowboys a defeat, splitting with the conference contender May 21 with a 9-2 win before a 6-5 loss.
At 9-1 overall, Gunnison will have to fight for the league title, and Jennings expects a June 2 doubleheader faceoff between the Cowboys and Delta, now 6-5, will be a battle.
If the Panthers pick up one win against Gunnison, MCHS will benefit in the standings. Though upcoming conference games with Roaring Fork June 5 and Basalt June 10 will mean just as much for the Dogs, a tiebreaker situation with Gunnison could easily go their way thanks to being the WSL team that’s allowed the fewest runs by far, only 35 in their 12 games.
For now, MCHS coaches are looking for a lengthier prep time to benefit the final stretch.
“We need a break. It can be a gauntlet sometimes,” Jennings said.
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