For Hotchkiss the trip to state baseball tournament play was more than just another chance to play for a state title. It was about reaching round two for a chance to face Paonia's Eagles for the fourth time this season. All three of the two teams' previous encounters were wins for Paonia.
After losing to the Eagles for the third time in 2017, the Bulldogs were selected to play in the Class 2A 2017 CHSAA State Baseball Championships based on RPI rankings.
Hotchkiss' first round opponent was Dayspring Christian Academy out of District 7 in Greeley. The Eagles, 14-4 prior to the game, finished second in District 7 standings with a 7-1 record. The Bulldogs, were second in District 3/5 standings and have a 16-6 record following last weekend's play.
Hotchkiss gained its first win in state competition on Saturday with a 4-2 decision over Dayspring Christian. A loss to Paonia, 1-0, on Saturday afternoon eliminated the Bulldogs from this year's 2A state championships.
The tournament, originally slated to begin on Friday, was postponed a day due to a snow storm which rendered fields in Pueblo unplayable until Saturday.
Against Dayspring Christian, neither team had an offense which was able to score until the third inning when the Eagles plated two runs. Hotchkiss cut the deficit in half with one run in its half of the inning.
Another scoreless inning for both teams passed before Hotchkiss took the lead for good with three runs in the fifth inning. The 4-2 lead would stand up the rest of the way with Jonathan Gonzalez going the distance for his sixth win of the season against three losses.
Gonzalez gave up three hits, two runs, allowed two walks and struck out 12 batters.
Chase Hiatt was one of five Hotchkiss batters to get a hit and was credited with two of the four RBIs recorded by the Bulldogs. Presley Pene was also 1-2, scored a run, hit a double and drove in one run. Eli Kirk had an RBI, scored a run and was 1-2 at the plate.
Dayspring's Jonathon Cowles was 2-2 with the Eagles' two runs to his credit.
Hotchkiss head coach Blake Carlquist had nothing but praise for his team following a day of baseball in Pueblo. "Our boys competed all day yesterday (Saturday) and I am extremely proud of the heart we showed. I believe that our region had the best five pitchers in the entire tournament (Seriani of Paonia, Jonathan Cowles and Jimmy Fargo of Dayspring Christian and Jonathan Gonzalez and Eli Kirk of Hotchkiss)."
Carlquist was somewhat disappointed in the draw for state tournament but ultimately accepted the team's fate. "To be honest our fate could have been very different had we been able to play better against Rifle (11-9 loss) and Cedaredge (11-1 loss). So, instead of pointing fingers at things out of our control, we are going to look in the mirror and accept that our early stumbles put us in the toughest region in the tournament. That being said, I am extremely pleased with the high stakes and high pressure play from our young men."
Carlquist's referral to high pressure play was in reference to Hotchkiss' game against Dayspring Christian where the Bulldogs were down 2-0 before things began happening. "We were able to come back from 2-0 against a talented Dayspring team with two very good arms. Presley Pene had a huge RBI double to score Eli Kirk from first (an inning after Dayspring's scores).
The turning point in the game came in the fifth. We were able to get runners to second and third and an intentional walk to Kale Litzelman loaded the bases for Chase Hiatt, who hit a two-RBI single to right center."
"(Jonathan) Gonzalez was huge for us on the mound with his only hiccup being in the third inning. He had the Dayspring hitters off balance all game and showed a lot of guts coming back after giving up those two runs early. Dayspring is a very good team and will be tough next year with only graduating two seniors," noted Carlquist.
Following their win against Dayspring Christian the Hotchkiss boys were relaxed and confident noted Carlquist. During practice sessions prior to heading to state the coaching staff preached that if they were to make a run at the title it would take some attitude adjustment.
"I think we grew up a lot between our last two games against Paonia and that is what makes me most proud," explained Carlquist. "We learned how to respond to adversity and that is a great life-long skill."
Carlquist agreed the Bulldogs and Eagles game (found in a related Paonia story) was a classic pitchers' duel with both pitchers having their good stuff. "The fact that the only run of the game came after a strikeout and a throwing error, speaks volumes to how good (Eli) Kirk and (Kayden) Seriani were," quoted Carlquist.
Kirk was given a great compliment by coach Carlquist when he was touted as "one of the best, if not the best, competitors we have in Hotchkiss."
"Paonia's first four batters can cause a lot of havoc for teams and Kirk kept them off balance for the entire game," stated Carlquist.
The Hotchkiss coach also gave credit, and praise, where it was due with a final quote. "You've got to tip your hat to (Kaden) Seriani as well. He threw a great game and he was hard to get on against."
Game results for the Paonia and Hotchkiss game may be found in the Paonia baseball story below.