Durango High School sophomore Jack Benner came off of the bench in Tuesday’s regular-season finale against Bayfield at DHS knowing he had to make an impact. His team was down four runs heading into the bottom of the sixth inning and with a potential playoff berth on the line, Benner delivered on a swinging bunt that tied the game. It was one of five hits in the inning and sparked the Demon offense to score seven and DHS held on for a 13-10 win.
“I was down two strikes and was trying to not strike out since there was a runner on third and knew I had to get him in,” Benner said. “I wanted to make contact and see where it went, and I wish I drove it, but it worked. I got the bunt down, Sten Joyner had great awareness to see the bunt down and know just to score the run. Who knows what might’ve happened if he didn’t score. We could have made two straight outs and been down one, but I’m glad it kept the inning alive.”
The Demons (10-13, 2-6 5A/4A Southwestern League) had to win against the Wolverines to control their own playoff fate, as they entered Tuesday’s contest with the No. 31 RPI, or ratings percentage index, which determines the 32-team Class 4A playoff field.
“The energy was really positive heading into the dugout, and even though we were down, we knew that we could keep creating chances,” said Durango senior Dawson Marcum, who played a key part in the rally. “For us to battle back, it was great to see, especially right before the playoffs, that we know that we can come from behind. We didn’t panic and we just kept up that rally.”
Bayfield (14-9, 10-0 3A Intermountain League) led early, but its offense took over the inning before for three runs on three hits, which included a three-run home run from Ethan Morris. The Wolverines were on the verge of pulling away, with senior starting pitcher Hayden Farmer in control of the game, and had recorded three strikeouts in four innings of work.
Cal Walsh led off the sixth with a solo home run to get the Demons within three, and that was just the start. Elias Fiddler walked, and Gus Kidd hit a high infield pop up in which three Wolverines converged on, but it fell in between all three. Sten Joyner and Niko Mestas each delivered RBI singles to make it 10-9. Bayfield coach Bert Miller replaced Max McGhehey with Shane Moore, and that set the stage for Benner.
Down 0-2 in the count, he made just enough contact and it bounced twice into fair territory and fell perfectly in front of BHS catcher Alec Demko, and Joyner slid underneath the tag to tie the game at 10. Gage Mestas gave DHS the lead for good with a two-run single to right field three batters later, and Walsh drove in his second run of the inning to make it 13-10.
“We let that one pop up drop that cost us a lot,” Miller said. “We had to save our pitching, and I think that if we had a few extra days, I would’ve left (Farmer) in there because he was pitching well for us. We went with Max McGhehey and then Shane Moore. I think that pop up, and the bunt that got through, was the difference. On offense, we’ve been hitting really well, with Ethan Morris and Dillon Vroman, but it was a bit too late to make a comeback today. We’ll be ready for the postseason, though.”
The Wolverines struck first in the top of the first, when Jake Brandon hit a double to deep left field off of Demons’ starting pitcher, senior Al Hurworth, that scored Hayden Farmer, and the next batter, Vroman, dropped in a bloop single to give his side a 2-0 lead. Vroman finished 2-for-4 with a double, two RBIs and a run scored, after he had four RBIs and the game-winning run in Monday’s doubleheader sweep over Monte Vista. BHS extended its lead to as much as five at 10-5 in the fifth, when Morris’ home run sailed over the fence.
Hurworth gave up four hits, four runs, all of which were earned, walked two and struck out one in three innings of work. Gage Mestas came on in relief and pitched four innings, allowed eight hits, six runs, all of which were earned, walked one and struck out five.
The Wolverines had one final chance after they had runners on the corners in the top of the seventh, and the always dangerous Farmer was at the plate. The DHS sophomore ace knew just how to pitch to him.
“We just had to get an out under our buckle and settle down,” Mestas said. “Coming in, we knew we had three more outs to hold them. There was a bit of pressure there at the end, because (Farmer) is a great hitter, and I really had to work against him, but I was just thinking, ‘strike, strike, strike.’ I was under a lot of stress, but knew that if I threw it in the spot where he likes, he could make the most of it. I picked my spot and got him with a curveball inside and was super relieved.”
Gage Mestas finished at the plate going 2-for-4 with two hits and two RBIs and Niko Mestas finished 3-for-3 with three RBIs. Benner finished 1-for-1 with one RBI, while Marcum was 1-for-3 with a run scored. For the Wolverines, Morris finished 2-for-4 with two hits, two runs scored and four RBIs.
The Class 3A and 4A regional brackets will be seeded Wednesday, with the first round beginning on Friday.