While head coach Rob Coddington shook hands with and hugged his nine seniors at home plate, two disappeared from the rear of the huddle in a sprint back to the dugout.Aaron Coats and Tyler McKnight returned with the water cooler.
"I think he saw us coming," Coats said.
Still, on a cool and windy day, Coddington was all too happy to play possum. His baseball team circled around home plate to run interference for Coats and McKnight, then Kent Coats, the senior's father, redirected Coddington's attention toward the pitching mound for a fake photo op.
The bait and switch worked well enough.
Coats and McKnight showered their championship coach with the traditional celebratory water cooler bath. After a high-scoring 19-13 victory Tuesday against Montezuma-Cortez, Durango, via a trio of tiebreakers, was crowned Southwestern League champion, its first title since 1996.
"It feels good," said Coddington, who, soaked, spoke with a confidence that this was, indeed, exactly where he expected to be after a 19-game season.
"We were at a crossroads when we lost at home to Montrose. I told the boys then, 'We have to win out if we want to seal the deal,' and they rose to the occasion. They came together as a team - on the field and off the field. They focused, and what's so special about this group of guys, they never quit. Despite any adversity, they never quit."
Typical of this season's comeback kids, Durango spotted Cortez a first-inning lead.
Keenan Garcia led off the game with a full-count single to center field off Coats, and Garcia scored on Ryan Haley's two-out bloop to center that dropped between McKnight and second baseman Phil Crom. Kamron Tate doubled home Haley for a 2-0 lead.
Durango, as it did all game long, as it has done all season long, swung the bats, then scored a bunch of runs.
"We've got such good sticks," said McKnight, who finished his final regular season with a .443 batting average as the Demons' leadoff hitter.
"We've got the confidence to come back from anything. Nothing is too big."
McKnight led off the bottom of the first with an infield single to deep short. He moved to second on the first of three walks by 2-hitter John Ugai.
Coats helped himself with an RBI line-drive single to left. Kenneth Gallegos tied the game at 2 with a deep, wandering fly ball to right-center field that dropped for an error in the gap. Justin Whirlow gave the Demons their first and final lead of the game with a two-RBI line-drive single to left that scored Coats and Gallegos.
Coats, who started on three days rest, pitched a 1-2-3 second, then hit a towering three-run home run to left field in the bottom half.
"It was a fastball up, a good pitch to lift," he said. "I knew it was going to score a run, but it just kept going."
Gallegos followed Coats' job with a solo homer, the second consecutive game the Demons' 3- and 4-hitters have gone back-to-back.
"Yeah, coach is supposed to buy us a steak dinner for that," Coats said.
Whirlow started another rally with a walk, and fellow senior Christian Silva drove him home with an infield single up the middle, the Demons' fifth run of a 10-batter frame.
Coats, who followed Friday's 82-pitch victory with Tuesday's 57-pitch, three-inning victory, labored through the third. He allowed five runs on seven hits to 10 batters.
"I felt pretty good," said Coats, who will likely start the Demons' playoff game this weekend. A postseason schedule has yet to be released.
"They just took me out early so I can throw on Saturday," he said.
Southworth, who threw 78 pitches in Saturday's victory, threw 71 pitches in relief of Coats on Tuesday at Ward Lee Field at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. After a 1-2-3 fourth, he allowed six runs in the fifth and sixth before Gallegos earned the game's final four outs.
Cortez rallied for a pair of runs in the top of the fifth inning to negate the 10-run rule and prolong the game.
Durango, on Gallegos' three-run homer in the third - his sixth this season - and a five-run fourth, led Cortez 17-7 after four.
Cortez's late-innings rally made it a four-run game.
"We figured Cortez would play us tough," Coddington said. "We knew Aaron and Ben wouldn't be as sharp, but they're both such competitors, we knew we had to go with them.
"We got the hits when we needed 'em. We made the plays when we needed 'em."
Durango's top five hitters in the lineup went 14-for-19 with 10 singles, one double, three homers, five walks, one hit by a pitch, 17 runs scored and 14 runs batted in.
Gallegos, who is hitting .453 this season, went 4-for-5 with two singles, two homers, four runs scored and six RBIs. He reached base all five times. Both homers came on curveballs, which quickly left the yard more than 400 feet over the fence in left center.
"All week I haven't been seeing any fastballs, so I just sat curveballs," he said. "I hit 'em good.
"That's probably the best we've hit all season."
"They've got a lot of faith in each other right now," Coddington said. "This is a lot of fun to be a part of.
"These guys have played a lot of baseball, seen a lot of different venues, a lot of different situations.
"Once they got their chemistry down at the beginning of the season, they've played pretty well," said Coddington, a three-time teacher of the year now in his third season as head coach of the Durango High School baseball program.
Durango finished its regular season 13-6 overall and 8-2 in the Southwestern League, which would tie Grand Junction should the Tigers win their final game Tuesday night in the Grand Valley. Durango won the league championship on the strength of a tiebreaker, its 2-0 mark against third-place Fruita Monument. (Grand Junction split its season series against Fruita.)"(This team is) real tight," said McKnight, who promised to call big brother Ian, a DHS alumnus and current Mesa State College baseball player, to celebrate the historic victory. "We've been playing together for quite awhile.
"We've come together and started raking."
Now, like their '96 alumni, who also claimed a state title, if they could just win one more.
"A couple more," McKnight said.