Welcome to the big leagues

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

After picking up a ground ball, Tori Laymon tags second for a Lady Panthers’ out and throws to first too late for the double play Friday afternoon against Fruita Monument at the Dolores Road Softball Park. Larissa Martin was in position to back her up.

By Bobby Abplanalp Journal staff writer

Most of this year’s Montezuma-Cortez High School softball team played little league last year.

A large group of freshmen on coach Heath Elliott’s squad this season saw firsthand what high school varsity softball is like.

The Lady Panthers really saw what they’re up against last Friday and Saturday. M-CHS opened the season at home with 5A Southwestern League powers Fruita Monument and Grand Junction Central.

In Friday’s doubleheader, Fruita displayed an offense of efficient precision with 48 hits both games. Stellar pitching from Jenny Sneddon was perfect for the Lady Wildcats, as she threw a perfect four innings and struck out seven.

Saturday’s doubleheader with Central saw the Warriors display dominate defense.

M-CHS scored the only runs for an opponent against Central all season in Game 1 Saturday, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Errors and first diamond jitters were too much to overcome.

The Lady Panthers saw it all at the Dolores Road Softball Park, losing to Fruita, 17-0 (F/4), 22-5 (F/4), and to Central, 10-3 and 16-0 (F/4). It was a learning experience for M-CHS (0-4, 0-4 5A/4A SWL), but a very valuable experience for Elliott’s team.

“Yesterday was rough,” Elliott said Saturday. “I think maybe jitters were a little bit there. Nerves; a lot. Today, they seemed a little more relaxed. We made a few position changes and I think those really worked out for the better.”

In Game 2 with Fruita (4-0, 4-0 SWL), the Lady Wildcats led 7-1 going into the bottom of the second.

The Lady Panthers responded in the bottom half with back-to-back-to-back RBI-singles from Tori Laymon, Lilly Jorgensen and Randy Elliott. Laymon later scored off a Fruita error to cut the margin to just 7-5.

There was new life in the dugout and amongst the home fans.

But that new life was short lived. Fruita’s bats really came alive in the third inning. The Lady Wildcats punished the young M-CHS pitchers for eight hits and 15 runs in the third in what resulted as the final margin.

Game 1 with Central (5-0, 4-0 SWL) went the full seven innings. The Warriors led 5-1 after six and pulled away in the seventh with five more across the plate.

The Lady Panthers wouldn’t go quietly, though. Freshman pitcher/first baseman Tayla Topaha belted a two out, two run RBI-single into left field to make the final score 10-3.

“Mostly the batting. It was a lot tougher than I hoped,” said a giggling Topaha about her first hitting experience at the varsity level. “When I was used to hitting, I had a different kind of light bats. That wasn’t working for me. I just started doing heavier and heavier (bats).”

In Game 2, The Lady Panthers were helplessly suffocated by the Warriors defense. M-CHS would go hitless again, as Central pitcher Amber Walters completed her no-hitter in four innings. Walters also hit 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Central has out-scored its opponents 55-3 through five games.

“Overall, I’m really pleased with what I’ve seen today. A lot of improvement compared to yesterday,” coach Elliott said. “But, we definitely have our work cut out. We got a long ways to go and they know that. Especially, after this weekend. But I think they’re all up to the task and looking forward to the challenge.”

Brighter days are ahead for a youthful M-CHS team, including a new softball diamond. A renovated Englehart Field will be ready for play when the Lady Panthers return home to face Delta on Sept. 28.

“We’ve got a beautiful new field we’re going to be playing on eventually,” Elliott said. “I’d love to get the stands filled. Get everyone out here, and come have a hotdog and watch a ballgame.”

Before hitting the new diamond, M-CHS will hit the road for a month starting Friday in Cedaredge (1-0) at 5 p.m., in a nonconference game. The Lady Panthers know their 3A opponent will be a tough out.

“Matt Hall from Delta, who coached there last year, is a very confident coach. He knows what he’s doing,” said Elliott about Cedaredge’s new skipper. “I’m not about to go in expecting an easy win here. We’re going to have to bear down and play some tough ball.”

Reach Bobby Abplanalp at bobbya@cortezjournal.com.

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