The baseball team from Hotchkiss High School took one huge step toward becoming a family last Friday afternoon.
Cole Carvill hit a walk-off grand slam and the Bulldogs beat No. 1 Paonia 12-8, evening the regular season series between the rivals and giving Hotchkiss a major shot in the arm as the postseason approaches.
"We do have a little bit of momentum now. But we're not going to change anything," Bulldogs coach Blake Carlquist said. "We keep preaching, take it one pitch at a time. Take it one game at a time. Things will take care of themselves."
Hotchkiss showed it was ready to play from the first inning.
Starter Eli Kirk struck out Eagles KJ Seriani and Dagan Rienks in the top of the frame, then Alex Aguilera had a sacrifice fly and Dom Beck belted a two run homer in the bottom half to post Hotchkiss to a 3-0 lead.
Kirk retired the Eagles three up, three down in the second inning then ran into trouble in the third.
Jaden Miller smacked a double that plated two Eagles, then Trevor Smith followed with a two run homer. Colby Simpson hit a double that scored Smith, and Paonia led 5-3.
Carlquist went to senior Cesar Gonzalez, who struck out Garret Beck to end the Paonia threat.
"Eli Kirk and Cesar Gonzalez have been better on the mound. But they just kept battling," Carlquist said. "And our team kept battling for them. We give up runs, we just keep chippin'. Keep chippin' away at that lead."
Paonia upped its advantage to 6-3 after Seriani's solo homer in the fourth. Gonzalez got the run back for Hotchkiss with his RBI single in the bottom of that frame to cut Paonia's lead to 6-4.
The Bulldogs got another tally in the fifth when Presley Pene beat out an infield single. He later came around to score when Smith misplayed Gonzalez's bunt attempt, throwing the ball into center field and committing one of five overall Paonia errors.
The Eagles recovered when Miller smashed a two run homer in the top of the seventh, putting Paonia in command at 8-5.
Miller finished with two hits and four RBIs in the contest.
Smith pitched six innings and threw over 100 pitches, so Miller came to the mound to close it out and Seriani moved behind the plate to catch.
The battery change proved fateful as Miller surrendered seven runs and Seriani had another Paonia error during the Hotchkiss rally.
Carvill's walk-off grand slam came after Hotchkiss tied it 8-8 and had the winning run on third base with one out. Two batters were intentionally passed to set up a double play situation for Paonia, but Carvill never gave them the chance.
"I was just looking for my pitch and it came. I stayed relaxed and stayed calm and just hit it," Carvill said. "Our young guys came in big and they really wanted it."
Hotchkiss improved to 16-1 overall and avenged a 3-0 loss to Paonia on April 19. Paonia fell for the first time and ended the regular season at 18-1.
"It's very rare when the most talented teams win it all," Carlquist said. "The best teams in baseball don't always have the most talented players or the most draft picks or the most kids that go on to play college baseball. They're willing to fight for each other, just as you would true family."
Hotchkiss was scheduled to make up a doubleheader at Rangely last Saturday, weather permitting.
The Eagles and Bulldogs will likely meet at least once more in the postseason.
District playoffs are this weekend in Cortez and then regionals and the 2A state tournament will be in Pueblo.