Tourney champions!

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Panthers right fielder Keegan Ralstin has the ball nearly in his glove, as he almost makes a diving catch. The ball bounced out when he hit the ground Friday at McAndrew Field against Dolores.

By Bobby Abplanalp Journal staff writer

It wasn't easy, but the Panthers opened their baseball season 3-0.

Dove Creek, Dolores and Monticello (Utah) all fell victim to the Panthers by two runs apiece at the Montezuma-Cortez High School Invitational at McAndrew Field.

However, on Saturday afternoon, the 1A Monticello Buckaroos (1-2) made it scary for the home fans.

The 4A Panthers led 5-2 after six innings and brought in closing pitcher Ryan Rich to get the final three outs.

A bean ball, a single, another single and an RBI-single made the score 5-3. Two on and one out, Shane Christensen grounded to Panthers' second baseman Kevin Morales. But Morales bobbled the ball and Christensen was safe at first to load the bases.

After the M-CHS coaches took the mound to counsel Rich, the senior closer got Tanner Eardley to pop up in foul territory behind the plate. Panthers' catcher Eddie Martinez caught the pop fly for a huge second out. The next at bat, Monticello's Easton Nielson belted a shot to left field in the wind. M-CHS left fielder Randy Haley dropped to one knee, got under the ball and secured the catch to end the game for the Panthers.

"All three of the teams we faced this tournament, they did well," said first-year M-CHS coach Matt Betts, whose team knocked off Dove Creek and Dolores 4-2 and 6-4 Friday and Saturday, respectively. "They came out, they played and there was never any team we were just going to blow out. They all have some pretty good players. I was happy to see that. It really gave us an idea of where we were at, what we needed to do."

Konnar McGee got the win on the mound Saturday for the Panthers, pitching six innings with six strikeouts.

"This season, I've felt really good," said McGee, a sophomore, about starting on the mound. "I came out today and felt really good. I knew my defense was going to back me up. I have 100 percent faith in them and they did a great job. We did really well."

M-CHS played stout in its tournament defensively and capitalized offensively on opponent errors. But Betts wants to see better hitting from his club.

"I think the big thing is getting our offense rolling," said Betts, referring to the Panthers being out-hit by the Buckaroos, 7-4. "We've had some spurts of it, but we've never consistently put three hard hits together. We're doing extremely well capitalizing on others mistakes. But we're going to have to start getting some earned runs."

Two hits came from M-CHS shortstop Dakota "Buddha" Goosen, as the senior went 2-for-3.

M-CHS vs. Dolores

The Panthers had seven hits Friday versus Dolores pitcher Cody Carroll in a 6-4 win in five innings.

Major Lackey hit a major league two-run RBI-single in the bottom of the fourth inning. That was followed up with a one-run RBI-single by Gerardo Martinez, as part of a four-run fourth for the Panthers.

With M-CHS leading 6-1 going into the top of the fifth, it appeared the game was all but over.

The 2A Bears (0-4) roared back, though.

After singles by Ethen Upton and Carroll to start the inning, Montezuma-Cortez transfer Chaz Thompson blasted a shot to the left center wall. Thompson's RBI-triple sent Upton and Carroll home to cut the Panthers lead to 6-3.

M-CHS starter Tallon Ralstin was relieved after four innings with seven Ks.

Gerardo Martinez came in to close and struck out Dolores catcher Kolton Shull. Tyler Weir then grounded out to first to score Thomspon for an RBI and it was now only 6-4.

Ultimately, Gerardo Martinez did his job and struck out Bears' second baseman Kellen Gatzke to earn the save.

Gerardo Martinez also hit 2-of-3 with an RBI.

Carroll hit 2-for-3 for Dolores and Thompson recorded three RBIs to go with his triple.

M-CHS and Dolores will both travel to New Mexico for tournaments in Aztec and Farmington. Each tourney is Thursday through Saturday with the Panthers playing their first game at 4:30 p.m. The Bears will be apart of the Piedra Vista High School tourney.

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