For the second consecutive season, the Hotchkiss Bulldogs will claim the 2A District 3/5 title by virtue of a conference win over rival Paonia.
Played last Thursday in the first game of a two-game series, the Bulldogs scored five runs in the bottom of the sixth to secure the 8-1 win.
Bulldogs ace pitcher Presley Pene allowed one hit, struck out four and walked four, striking out his final four at bats and ending the game one pitch shy of his 110-count limit. Of the 26 batters faced, Pene threw 17 first-pitch strikes.
"I'm so proud of this team," said head coach Blake Carlquist.
Paonia's only run, by Grey Neal, came in the top of the first inning. Pene "struggled the first inning to find the zone," said Carlquist. Paonia ended the inning on a costly error, and with the bases loaded.
Pene "made the adjustment between innings. He did what he had to do," said Carlquist.
The left-handed senior gave up one hit in the sixth inning off the bat of senior Soul Connolly. "I know it's a big game," said Pene. "It's always the rivalry game of the year. I knew I had to give my team my all."
The Bulldogs' six hits came off of Pene, Yahir Chavez (2B), Parker Pene, Brian Gonzalez (2B), Marvin Guereque and Will Scarlett.
Soul Connolly, who allowed three runs on four hits and struck out nine, was given the loss. Also a lefty, "He's a good pitcher," said Carlquist.
Pene said the entire team was confident of a win heading into the game, "but we didn't want to overlook them, because we know Paonia's always tough and they always come out and give us a run for our money."
The Dogs' defense "made some huge plays," said Carlquist. Guereque "made two great plays" at shortstop, both groundouts, and freshman outfielder Colson Hollombeak "made a huge catch" on a line drive to right field off the bat of David Lozano in the top of the second.
The Dogs scored a run in third, fourth and fifth innings and were leading, 3-1, at the top of the sixth when Jesus Macias, Pene, Guereque, freshman Parker Pene and Scarlett scored runs. Pene retired Paonia's last four at-bats. Going into the final innings, said Pene, "Coach said to keep grinding them, keep working as hard as we can."
"We were pretty focused," said Guereque, who had two assists and two putouts at shortstop. "It was fun, but it was sad because it's our last home game. We were really focused. We played our hearts out and we got the W."
Hotchkiss carried its momentum into game two, played over two days due to a thunderstorm, scoring five second-inning runs to defeat Paonia, 10-3.
Winning pitcher Brian Gonzalez threw five innings, allowing four hits striking out 10. The Eagles jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first on earned runs by David Lozano, Neal and Connolly.
Hotchkiss had one out and the bases loaded with Hunter Bryant at bat when the game was delayed by lightning. On Saturday morning, Bryant opened with a single to score Guereque. With Hotchkiss at the top of the batting order, Carlos Lozano made a 1-3 double play to Connolly.
The wins give the Bulldogs a 14-1 overall record. As of Monday they were ranked third in state RPI standings behind Front Range Christian (11-3) and Peyton (16-0).
With one week of regulation play to go, Dolores and Hotchkiss are tied at 4-1. Paonia is now 3-1 and is expected to win its final conference game Saturday at Meeker. While the one loss was to Dolores, by virtue of the win over Paonia, the three-way tiebreaker and the district title will go to Hotchkiss. The Bulldogs will end the regular season Saturday at Sargent (9-4).
The district tournament opens May 10 at Delta High School.