A comeback win Tuesday gave the Durango High School baseball team a chance to play another day. That day is Saturday.
The Demons qualified for the Class 4A regional tournament and will play one of the top teams in the state in 4A Region 4 host Palisade at 10 a.m. Saturday in Palisade. The winner of the game will face the winner of Fort Morgan and Pueblo County at 3 p.m. in the regional championship with a spot in the double-elimination state tournament on the line. The Demons have not played in the state tournament since 2014 and haven’t played in a regional championship game since 2015.
“It’s exciting to be able to go to regionals and have a chance to continue on,” said Eric Baker, the Demons’ head coach since 2015. “But it’s a daunting task to have to win two games. There are going to be three teams there who are also pretty good. Palisade has earned their spot. Any team that earns the right to host has had a pretty good season. They’ve had a lot of success and probably a lot of confidence.”
Durango (9-13) finished only 2-6 in Class 5A/4A Southwestern League play and won only three of its last seven games, with two of those wins coming against Class 3A Bayfield. But the Demons have played better ball as of late, and the bats have come around with an average of nearly eight runs per game over their last eight games.
“I think about the last week and a half, we’ve really seen a lot of improvement,” Baker said. “The big thing is we’re seeing activity up and down the lineup. A lot of guys down lower in the lineup are contributing. It feels good and feels like we’re in a good spot right now; probably playing the best we have this season.”
Palisade (16-7) ran through its Western Slope League competition to win the title with an unblemished 12-0 record. The Bulldogs have averaged more than 10 runs scored per game and have allowed an average of only five, with four shutout wins and 11 wins while allowing three runs or less.
At the plate, the Bulldogs have 12 players batting for an average of .300 or better. Palisade junior Stevenson Reynolds has hit .486 in playing all 23 games. He has 37 runs batted in and has scored 34 times with six homers, six triples and eight doubles. Jack Mohler has hit for a .436 average with three homers, four triples and 12 doubles to go with 34 RBIs and 30 runs scored.
The Bulldogs also are fierce base stealers, with 59 swipes this year, led by 13 from Sebastian Campbell and 11 from Mohler.
Palisade has been led on the mound by juniors Cavan Pawlowski and Cade Bickham, who have matching 4-1 records and earned-run averages below 4.00. In 33 2/3 innings, Pawlowski has struck out 37 batters to only 15 walks, while Reynolds, who has a 3-1 record with a 3.54 ERA, has struck out 28 batters with only eight walks in 27 2/3 innings.
Durango’s ace is sophomore Gage Mestas, who pitched four innings Tuesday against Bayfield but is expected to bounce back and be ready Saturday morning. In 11 appearances, Mestas has a 3.47 ERA to go with 57 strikeouts to only 21 walks in 46 1/3 innings of work. Junior pitcher Fynn Hyson is the Demons’ No. 2 arm. He has 33 strikeouts and 17 walks in 41 1/3 innings with a 5.25 ERA.
Thursday night, Baker would not commit to who would get the ball to open the regional at Palisade.
“The big thing about Gage is that he covers so much ground,” Baker said. “He’s so important on our defense at shortstop, and that has to factor into the decision, too. It’s a matter of, ‘Where are we best having Gage play?’ We have to think about it, but more than likely it will be Gage on the mound.”
DHS junior Sten Joyner has been a force at the plate over the last month. He leads the team with a .397 batting average with a home run, one triple and five doubles. He has 10 RBIs and 10 runs scored. Senior Dawson Marcum is batting .386 with two homers, a triple and three doubles to go with 17 RBIs and 22 runs scored, and sophomore Cal Walsh also has two homers, two triples and seven doubles with 29 RBIs, 18 runs scored and a .346 batting average.
In the same regional, Pueblo County (12-10) will face Fort Morgan (15-8) immediately after the Durango and Palisade game. The winner of the two contests will then square off in the regional championship Saturday afternoon.
“The team has talked about how the atmosphere will be a little different,” Baker said. “Hopefully, we’ll be ready to handle any nerves and be ready to get after it.”