After defeating rival Paonia by a single run in conference play, Hotchkiss (17-3) was seeded first heading into Saturday's district baseball tournament at Hubbard Field in Olathe; Paonia (19-2) was seeded second. Both teams won their respective semifinal game in five innings.
The championship game, however, belonged to Paonia. This was the third consecutive year the rival teams played for the district tournament championship, and the second consecutive year that Paonia came out on top.
The district win gives the defending state champion Paonia Eagles the No. 3 seed heading into this week's sweet 16 regional baseball tournament, which opens Friday at Runyon Field Sports Complex in Pueblo. Because it is in fourth place in state RPI rankings, Hotchkiss also advances. The only top-eight team to lose the district championship game, the Bulldogs are seeded fourth in the state.
After losing to Paonia in state quarterfinals last season, both teams are breathing a sigh of relief after landing on opposite sides of the state bracket. Hotchkiss will face 13th seed Dawson School (13-7) at 9 a.m. Friday. The winner will face either No. 5 Rocky Ford (17-3) or No. 12 Lyons (13-4).
Paonia will open regional play at 9 a.m. against 14th seeded Front Range Christian (13-6). The winner will face either No. 6 Limon (14-5) or 11th seeded Calhan (13-6).
Peyton (21-1) and Sedgwick County (19-1) are ranked one and two in the state. "And there's always one that sneaks up on you," said head coach Nate Miller. He anticipates that every team they face will be playing good baseball. "If we execute and take care of business, we'll be fine."
State brackets are available at MaxPreps.com and at CHSAAnow.com.
HHS 15, Dolores 5
In the opening semifinal game, the Bulldogs defeat fourth-seeded Dolores, 15-5, in five innings. The Bears scored four runs in the top of the first inning. "We kind of bounced back from that and took care of business," said head coach Blake Carlquist.
In the bottom of the first, the Bulldogs scored 11 runs and had 10 hits.
Marvin Guereque was 2 for 2 with one RBI and a double, Jesus Macias was 1 for 4 with 2RBI, and Josie Hiatt was one for two with two RBIs and three runs.
On the mound, Presley Pene allowed two hits and one earned run, walked five and struck out three in two innings. Jamison Yanish closed, allowing the Bears three hits and one run in three innings.
Paonia 10, Meeker 0
In its 10-0 semifinal win over third-seeded Meeker, Paonia ace pitcher KJ Seriani allowed one hit and struck out 11. All but three of Meeker's 17 at bats ended in a K, and Seriani ended the game with fewer than 70 pitches.
Paonia had seven earned runs and eight hits for the game. Jaden Miller was 3 for 3 with two RBIs, two doubles and a triple. Anders Schopp and Grey Neal were 1 for 2 and Seriani was 1 for 2 with an RBI.
In the first inning Miller scored Slater Podgorny and Seriani on a triple. Logan Schopp and Grey Neal also scored runs, giving Paonia a 5-0 lead at the end of the first inning.
Hitting into the strong winds that battered players and fans alike throughout the entire tournament, Paonia hit three fly-outs to center field in the second inning.
In the fifth inning Paonia scored five runs on four hits. With the bases loaded, Seriani and Schopp scored on a walk-off double by Grey Neal.
The five-inning win didn't surprise Miller. "You never know what you're going to get with Meeker," he said. "They're kind of scrappy, but we showed up and did everything right in that first game."
Paonia 7, Hotchkiss 2
For the third time this season, and in as many years, rivals Paonia and Hotchkiss met on the diamond Saturday in the district championship game. With the possibility of facing Hotchkiss in the state bracket, Paonia head coach Nate Miller said he didn't want to give the Bulldogs another look at ace pitcher KJ Seriani. Instead, the win went to junior leftie Soul Connolly, who allowed one hit and struck out five in five innings. "He kept them off balance," said Miller. "He's got good stuff when he throws strikes... He did a heck of a job."
High winds and strong gusts blew balls sideways and shortened numerous hits, making it hard on the outfield. "It definitely changes the game for both teams," said Miller. "It's hard to hit in the wind."
The Bulldogs put starting pitcher Jonathan Gonzalez on the mound. In the second inning, Gonzales allowed one hit by Anders Schopp before throwing three consecutive Ks.
After two scoreless innings, the Eagles got on the board in the top of the third, with Clay Campbell and Slater Podgorny scoring on a double by Jaden Miller.
Neither team scored in the fourth. In the top of the fifth inning Paonia stretched the lead to four runs when Seriani hit the only home run of the day, sending the ball over the left field fence to score David Lozano from first. "That was a game-changer," said Miller.
In the bottom of the sixth, a double by Bulldogs senior Chase Hiatt scored Eli Kirk from second and advanced Jamison Yanish to third. In leading off, Yanish was trapped between third and home, but the defense went after Hiatt, who was heading to third. Yanish scrambled home, and Hotchkiss trailed by two runs heading into the final inning.
Carlquist credited Gonzalez's performance against one of the top hitting teams in the state. "He definitely threw well enough to keep us in the game." Unfortunately, said Carlquist, "offensively we didn't get going until the sixth inning."
With the winds picking up, the Eagles pulled off a couple of squeeze plays. "It's tough to defend that stuff," said Miller.
The Bulldogs intentionally walked Seriani at the top of the seventh. Miller followed up with a base hit. In the next at-bat Schopp was thrown out at first.
With one out, Grey Neal singled and Connolly hit a two-run single to center field before getting tagged out between first and second.
When Connolly reached his maximum pitch count, Schopp was called on to close, allowing three hits and two runs and striking out one Bulldogs' batter.
With two Bulldogs on base in the bottom of the seventh, Podgorny caught a flyout at shortstop and threw to first for a double play.
Paonia didn't play great defense or have its best day running bases, said Miller. "Gotta get better with some of that, but we won the game, that's the bottom line."