Moffat County baseball players earn All-State honors to cap off seismic season
For the Craig Press
It was a lengthy wait for the final list following a spring season that went far later in the calendar than usual, but the announcement of an All-State team was a pleasant extra inning for two Bulldog athletes.
The Colorado High School Activities Association released its All-State baseball grouping July 22, with recent Moffat County High School graduates Krece Papierski and Hunter Smilanich on the list for their accomplishments in one of the best Bulldog seasons in years.
The varsity team claimed a conference title in the 3A Western Slope League with a 15-3 overall record, in no small part due to solid senior leadership.
Papierski was named All-State First Team, as CHSAA took notice of his high standing on offense not only among 3A WSL teams but the classification as a whole, with the best batting average (.689), slugging percentage (1.556), and on-base percentage (.781), as well as the most stolen bases (27) among all 3A Colorado teams, according to MaxPreps statistics.
Papierski also was the only 3A player to amass seven home runs throughout the season, including one grand slam.
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Still, his most memorable moment was an early win in the schedule in which he hit a single, double, triple and homer.
“Hitting for the cycle in Rifle in the beginning of the year was a pretty cool moment, that was the first time I’ve done that in my career,” Papierski said.
Smilanich, an All-State Honorable Mention, was right behind Papierski in conference rankings in most categories, and finished the season fourth in 3A batting average (.600), third in slugging (1.040), and tied for fourth in on-base (.667). In a heavy-hitting season for the Dogs, he knocked two out of the park.
The two graduates both said they’ve steadily improved on their physical and mental prowess as batters with hours and hours of practice.
“One thing I’ve worked on since my freshman year, and my whole baseball career really, is keeping a consistent approach at the plate. To not do too much and keep things simple. I think about this every day I hit,” Smilanich said.
As far as defense, while Papierski was almost exclusively behind the plate as the Bulldogs’ starting catcher, Smilanich worked at multiple infield positions, including pitcher, maintaining a 5.82 earned run average with 20 strikeouts.
Smilanich noted that doubleheaders with Gunnison and Basalt stood out to him most this season; the former because of the split against the Cowboys that showed the Bulldogs what kind of clout they had, and the former a sweep of the Longhorns that cemented the Moffat County league record as the top team.
“Those were huge games for us at that time in the year because both of those squads had good records and beating them earned us league champions,” Smilanich said.
The two thanked their families and coaches from throughout the years for helping them get to the peak of their game.
“I’d also like to thank my mentor Junior Herndon for all of the incredible wisdom he has shared with me over the past years,” Papierski said.
MCHS head coach Brian Jennings said that the All-State honors were well-deserved for both Bulldogs.
“They worked hard the last four years and they got to top it off with a grand accomplishment like that,” Jennings said.
The pair of lifetime ball players also represented MoCo during the Western Slope’s All-Conference exhibition game this summer, along with incoming MCHS seniors Derrick Squires and Ryan Peck, with Papierski winning Player of the Year for the WSL.
Squires and Peck will bring plenty to the team next spring — Squires boasting the league’s lowest ERA at 3.00, and Peck ahead of even Papierski with the highest RBI count within the WSL and the entire 3A division at 33 RBI — while Papierski and Smilanich will be heading to college ball at North Dakota’s University of Mary and Nebraska’s Hastings College, respectively.
The strong season was plentiful in achievements, and though Papierski called the team’s playoff loss to Colorado Academy “heartbreaking,” he noted that he had great respect for the full squad.
“It couldn’t have been with a better group of guys and probably one of the most hardworking teams Moffat County has seen in a long time,” Papierski said.
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A new conference opponent was on the field Tuesday against the Moffat County High School team in what was truly a battle of the Bulldogs.