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Paonia dominates play on diamond; hopes high

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Photo by Eric Goold Paonia's Jaden Miller goes through the Hats Off lineup after belting a homerun against Rangely. Miller and Trevor Smith hit back-to-back homers in both games of a doubleheader sweep over Rangely's Panthers on Saturday.

There's a buzz going around Volunteer Park. It's the sound of baseballs being knocked into the river.

The baseball team from Paonia High School played on its home diamond for the first time this season last Saturday, crushing eight home runs and sweeping a doubleheader from Rangely by a total score of 44-2.

In game one, sophomore KJ Seriani made his long-awaited debut after moving to Paonia from Palisade.

The hard-throwing righthander faced 12 Panthers' batters over three innings. He struck out seven, hit one batter, walked one and allowed one hit, a single.

"A little rusty coming back for the first day," Seriani said. "But all in all I felt pretty good."

Anders Schopp came on to work the final two frames and struck out five of the six batters he faced.

"We didn't want to throw anybody a complete game today. Arm's not quite in baseball shape after basketball," Paonia coach Nate Miller said. "We figured we'd go with Seriani and then try to get all of our pitchers some work. All in all I thought our pitchers looked pretty good."

Game two featured a trio of Paonia hurlers as Trevor Smith, Alex Lozano and Dagan Rienks put the visiting Rangely hitters on lockdown. Smith struck out five of the seven batters he faced.

Lefty Lozano had a hard time finding the strike zone and issued five walks but only allowed two runs. Rienks tossed the last two innings, yielding two walks and an infield single but no runs.

With new rules limiting pitch count and increasing rest days for high school pitchers, depth in the pitching rotation is a rarity indeed.

"Jaden Miller didn't go today and he was our ace last year. We have a lot of pitchers right now," Miller said. "As long as we can keep them healthy, keep their arms going, we should be fine. With the new pitching rules, you definitely need it."

Offensively, the Eagles belted the baseball all around the yard. Paonia was led by Smith, Jaden Miller and Seriani, the 3-4-5 hitters in their lineup.

The trio combined for eight home runs and 14 base hits in the twinbill domination.

"The things is, it's not just one of us that makes a team, it's all of us," Seriani said. "All of us can hit that way, it's just three of us stood out today."

These were only the first two games of the year, but already Paonia showed a power hitting lineup that has serious potential.

"I wasn't expecting that, to be honest with you," Miller said. "We had seven homers all of last year. So yeah, 3-4-5 were pretty tough. I wasn't expecting that, it was amazing. We ran out of baseballs."

With speedsters like Colby Simpson, Lozano, Slater Podgorny and Garrett Beck in the lineup, the Eagles have the ability to play small ball if necessary to the situation, but Miller figured he'd let them swing away and keep hitting with power.

"If they're doing that, we're not going to start bunting," Miller said.

Early in the season, the Eagles are showing that all three of the pieces are there: pitching, hitting and defense.

"I think we should be pretty good. I think we should go a long way with the bats and the arms we got, with the way we pitch," Seriani said. "We want to take it as long as we possibly can."

Competition in 2A District 2 is just beginning to heat up and the Eagles will be tested.

"Hotchkiss is always going to be good. They've got some good kids on the mound, they've got some good arms and they're well coached. Same thing with Cedaredge," Miller said. "The league is going to be tough. Those two teams are the teams that are going to be there."

For now the Eagles want to play smart and not let high expectations get ahead of playing every day.

"I want to see good at bats, and I want us to cut down on errors. The basics," Miller said. "We're not here to have anybody throw a no hitter right now. We're here to develop some younger guys. We're a young team. We have no seniors. Just try and get them developed over the next few weeks."

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