With five games remaining in the prep baseball season, it seems no one is going to touch Paonia. Even in facing a 5A team and a high-ranked 3A team last week, its record remained unscathed and it ended the week at 13-0.
At Grand Junction last Tuesday, Paonia scored six runs in the top of the seventh inning to come from behind and defeat the 5A Tigers, 7-5.
Ace pitcher Kaden Seriani struck out five in the first two innings and held the Tigers to five runs in five innings. The outfield was bigger than Paonia is used to, said head coach Nate Miller, and that was hard for the defense to prepare for.
Seriani's pitches have been clocked at 93 mph. Against smaller teams he's hard to hit, said Miller, but Grand Junction is used to the harder throwers. With just over two innings remaining, the Tigers had two outs and two runners on base. Seriani was getting high in his pitch count and was getting tired.
At that point, said Miller, they needed to try something different. The plan was to put Trevor Smith on the mound, but Miller wanted to give their opponents something they didn't expect. So he turned to senior Alex Lozano. "He's one of our best," said Miller. He's also a leftie, and he's got a nice curve ball.
"He did a great job," said Miller. "He threw curves for strikes and spotted the fast ball."
Lozano said he had no idea he'd be pitching. Coach pulled him from the outfield and told him to get the out and get the team back to the dugout. Lozano said he knew stepping up to pitch that some of the best defensive players in the state were behind him. "I just put my trust in them," he said. With a full count, he struck the batter out, and the Eagles trailed, 5-0,
The infield surface was really hard, and Miller told his hitters to just put their bats to the balls and hit low and hard. "They hit a lot of line drives," he said. In the sixth inning, Jaden Miller hit a one-run single to put Paonia on the board.
A lot of people from Paonia were there cheering them on, and that helped, said Lozano. The team was also really positive. They were down, but players kept saying they've got this. Pretty soon, he said, they had their rally caps on. They drew a fish in the dirt and with their bats as poles "went fishing for some runs."
In the top of the seventh, Grand Junction put a new pitcher on the mound after its ace pitcher hit his limit of 110 pitches, and Paonia rallied.
Paonia put two runs up after the change, and with two outs, tied the game at 5-5. With Miller on third and Smith on second, Lozano said he hit the ball into the gap in left center field, scoring both runners.
The Tigers had one more chance to score, but with two runners on base, Seriani made a big catch off of a hit to left center field just inside the fence. Had he missed, said Miller, the tying run was on second base. With two outs, a full count, and Grand Junction runners on first and second base, Lozano struck the last batter out.
"It was a good test for them," said Miller. The defense played really well throughout the game and had no errors. "The team wasn't intimidated, and they never got down."
Miller said everyone played a big part in the win. It's usually the big guys who are the big contributors to the wins, said Miller, but they can't always get the job done. This year "a lot of guys are contributing, and that's what we need."
In what Miller described as another good test, the Eagles scored nine runs in the third inning and added three runs in the seventh to defeat 3A Bayfield, 15-5, Friday at Bayfield. The Wolverines are ranked first in the Class 3A Intermountain League and are in the top 10 team in state rankings. The game was scheduled after a doubleheader against Dayspring Christian was canceled in March.
On Saturday the Eagles drove over 1A Dove Creek, scoring 13 runs in the fourth inning for a 27-1 win.
Paonia also defeated 1A Nucla Saturday, 18-1. "They're that team that could beat you if you're not ready," said Miller ahead of the game. Paonia allowed four hits and one run and struck out 13 in five innings.
The Eagles travel to Meeker (8-3, 2-1) Saturday for a conference doubleheader. They face rival Hotchkiss on April 27, at Hotchkiss, and host the Bulldogs Saturday. They wrap up the regular season at home on May 5, against Nucla.