Just who will come out on top in Class 2A District 3/5 baseball remains a mystery after the two top teams in the district split a doubleheader last week. On Thursday, Hotchkiss won game one of the series, beating Paonia on its home turf by a single run. The game marked the Bulldogs' first win over their rivals since 2016 and gave them the conference win.
The next day, Paonia defeated the Bulldogs in five innings in Hotchkiss.
"You never know with these two teams," said Paonia head coach Nate Miller, who played on three state champion teams at Paonia High School.
Hotchkiss 1, Paonia 0
Hotchkiss opened the series with a 1-0 win at Paonia. That the last game was a 1-0 win for Paonia in the state quarterfinal round didn't escape notice. Paonia went on to win the state title and finish the season undefeated. "We've been waiting for this for a long time," said Hotchkiss starting pitcher Jonathan Gonzalez. "We knew this was our game and we would be beating them at their house."
Gonzalez was awarded the conference win, allowing five hits, striking out five and walking one in seven innings. Gonzalez also scored the winning run, opening the fourth inning on a double and scrambling to third base on a passed ball. "I told him to find any way to score," said head coach Blake Carlquist.
When Eagles catcher Jaden Miller momentarily lost track of the ball on a low pitch by KJ Seriani, Gonzalez scored. The ball deflected off of his foot and he lost sight of it, he said. "I knew he wasn't going to find it and I took off."
Game one was also played for the conference win. The team seemed to know heading into the game that it was going to come out on top, said Carlquist. "We've been confident all week, all season... They believed in themselves."
Carlquist gave credit to Gonzalez, and to Paonia pitcher KJ Seriani, who struck out 10 and ended that fateful fourth inning with Ks against Bulldogs Jamison Yanis and Chase Hiatt, both solid hitters. "They both threw fantastic games on the mound," said Carlquist.
Gonzalez's fourth-inning double was one of three hits for Hotchkiss. Marvin Geureque was 2 for 3 and opened the game on a base hit. His second single came in the sixth inning.
The Eagles had five hits for the game, but were unable to capitalize. Grey Neal was 2 for 3 including a double in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Bulldogs' defense made sure Neal never got past second base. Anders Schopp opened the second inning with a single and advanced to third on a bunt by Soul Connolly. Both were left on base with Gonzalez putting the last two batters away.
"The baseball gods were not with us yesterday," said Coach Miller. "No excuses. Everything we hit was right at everybody.
"But it was still a 1-0 day," he said. "We just can't let that happen later in the year."
Paonia 18, Hotchkiss 8
Friday marked a complete 180-degree turn for the Eagles, who opened the game in spectacular form. "They were not happy about yesterday and so they were ready to go," said Miller.
Slater Podgorny led off with a walk, followed by a base hit by David Lozano. Seriani loaded the bases on a walk, and Jaden Miller stepped up to the plate, aimed for the City Market parking lot and hit the ball over right field for a grand slam home run.
In the bottom of the inning Hotchkiss left one runner on base.
Paonia loaded the bases again in the top of the second, with Podgorny scoring on a walk.
Hotchkiss took care of business in the third, opening with a 1-3 out on a sacrifice bunt by Soul Connolly and ending with Presley Pene striking out the last two batters.
In the fourth inning, the Bulldogs scored five runs on six hits. Pene led off with a base hit. After a fly out by Gonzalez, Eli Kirk hit a two-run homer. With two outs, Chase Hiatt got a base hit, Jesus Macias followed up with a double, and Devin Curtis brought them both home on a solid double to center field. Curtis then scored on "a big base hit" off Miller by Josie Hiatt that landed squarely between second base and center field. "She's incredible," said Carlquist.
Hotchkiss trailed, 7-5, when the inning closed on a 6-4 out. "We were down big early and we found a way to get back within two runs," said Carlquist. Unfortunately, and unlike the day before, "We were not on our A game and allowed a very quality team to get some extra looks. And when you give Paonia more times to look at the ball, you give up more hits and more runs."
Paonia broke open the game in the fifth, getting four hits and scoring 11 runs in 15 at bats. Before the inning was over, Podgorny had hit a two-run double and a one-run triple, and Neal had a two-run double.
Hotchkiss opened the bottom of the fifth with three solid hits -- singles by Pene and Gonzalez, and a two-run ground rule double.
With one out, Hiatt took first base after getting hit by a pitch, and Macias followed with a base hit. Miller struck out Curtis and Guereque to end the game.
Miller said he knew the team would bounce right back. He noted some big plays, including a diving catch by Derek Holt off of a hit to far right field by Gonzalez with a runner on first. In his first start of the season, Isaac Stanfield came through with a one-run single in the fifth inning after striking out twice. Also in the fifth inning, Clay Campbell broke a dry spell for a single and a sacrifice hit.
"Paonia took advantage of any mistake we made on the mound and defensively," said Carlquist. "Against a team like that, you can't give them extra opportunities without expecting to get hurt."
Friday's league win gives Hotchkiss a 5-0 record with one conference game remaining. Up ahead on their 18-game schedule is a doubleheader at Sargent (15-2, 9-0, 2A District 3) at 1 and 3 p.m. Thursday, May 3 and a make-up DH at Meeker on May 7. Game one will be for the conference win. At 3-1, Meeker is third in district standings. Playing them later in the season could make the series more challenging than it would have been back in week four, said Carlquist. "They've got some good athletes over there. Meeker's got a winning tradition going... They're a solid team."
Looking ahead to the two doubleheaders remaining in the season and the district playoffs, he said, "It's all about how they respond to the loss" against Paonia.
For the Eagles, there was a little panic after the loss, said Coach Miller, but he wasn't worried. To bounce back like the team did shows its potential. But more important than beating up on Hotchkiss is winning the next few games. "It provides a little momentum for us."
Paonia played Tuesday at 1A Nucla (7-9) and will play a DH this Friday against 8-7 Sanford at Gunnison. "We're at a point now where we need to win, and somebody's going to have to stay home. I don't want to do that."