The Eagles wrapped up the regular season with two conference wins over Rangley Saturday. The Eagles are alone at the top of the 2A Western Slope League with an 8-0 record.
Paonia will travel to Cortez on Saturday for the 2A District 2 tournament. They will open with a game against Ignacio (3-10 overall, 2-5 in San Juan Basin league), according to head coach Drew Potter.
Rangely will face Dolores (5-9, 3-2) at 10 a.m., and the winners will play for the league championship at approximately 3 p.m. The first-place will advance to the regional tournament on May 12.
With only one senior, Paonia placed eighth in last year's state playoffs.
Potter said that, despite two wins against them early in the season, he expected a tough series on Saturday against the Panthers. Rangely was on a 10-game winning streak and had defeated Moffat County, Eagle Valley and Grand Valley. But within about a half an hour, it became clear that the Panthers' winning streak was over.
From the start of the season, the Eagles have strived to give non-starters experience in a variety of positions, which paid off well against Rangely. With three starting outfielders and their catcher sitting the game out, Potter relied on freshmen and sophomores to fill in, including Tyler Jackson at right field, Michael Willmore at center field, and Josh Altman, Jesse Gillenwater and Joel Simianer at left field.
"Those kids really stepped up," said Potter, "and the normal starters stepped up, too."
KC Christian and Tyler Kendall got the team off to a strong start, both hitting doubles to open game one. From there, it was all Paonia. Landon Long was one for three after hitting a home run — his third of the season.
Derek Heiniger pitched a complete game one for 13 strikeouts and the win.
In game two, the Eagles held a 16-run lead at the end of three innings, with Keaton Kropp going 3 for 3, including four RBIs.
Paonia logged only three strikeouts for the game.
Potter said he's not concerned about the potential on Saturday for back-to-back games. If anyone has to come out, he'll just look to the bench for a solid replacement.