Paonia rallies to win 2A District 2 title

The Paonia High School baseball team rallied in its final at-bat to win the Class 2A District 2 tournament Saturday at Canyon View Park.

Paonia junior Keaton Kropp’s three-run triple in the top of the seventh inning lifted the Eagles to a 9-6 victory over eighth-ranked Dolores.

“This was a game we needed,” Paonia coach Andi Braslin said. “It was a close one and we had to work hard to get it. Our last few games we kind of glided through them. We needed a nail-biter.”

The Eagles (14-7), who are on an eight-game winning streak, advanced to regionals for the ninth consecutive year. Paonia will play the District 1 (Southern Peaks League) runner-up, La Veta (13-8). Dolores (15-4) advances to regionals as well and plays the District 1 champion, Sargent (13-3). The winners play for a state semifinal berth.

The regional tournament will be next weekend at a site to be determined, but Paonia Athletic Director Tim Esgar said it will likely be Delta High School.

With the Eagles trailing 6-5 entering the top of the seventh inning, Dustin Braslin was hit by a pitch. That brought up Casey Gillenwater, who entered the weekend hitting .577 with eight home runs. Rather than risk getting beat by Gillenwater, the Bears intentionally walked Paonia’s lone senior.

Landon Long was hit by a pitch to load the bases, then Kropp drove a 0-1 pitch to the left-center field gap for a triple, plating three runs.

“That was a huge hit for us,” Andi Braslin said. “I kind of had it running through my mind to squeeze that tying run in, but (Kropp had) been hitting the ball hard all day. It couldn’t have come at a better time and for a better kid. He’s worked hard all year for us.”

Jacob Leon followed with a sacrifice fly to score Kropp for an insurance run.

Dolores rallied from a 5-0 deficit with a five-run fourth inning.

The Bears took advantage of four walks and a hit batter. After two runs scored on bases-loaded walks and another scored on a passed ball, Tyler Underwood drove home two more runs on a single that dropped in to short left field.

Dolores took the lead in the fifth when Kolten Schull doubled and scored on Cody Carroll’s single.

Gillenwater, who came in to pitch in the fourth, shut down Dolores the rest of the way to pick up his second win of the day. He allowed one run on two hits and three walks in 31⁄3 innings.

“Casey stepped up big,” Andi Braslin said. “He showed his leadership as a senior. He said, here guys get on my shoulders. He did an excellent job.”

Gillenwater limited Ignacio to one run on four hits and struck out eight in the Eagles’ 12-1 victory in the five-inning district semifinal game.

Jacob Leon was 2 for 3 with a triple, Kropp was 2 for 2 with two RBI and Derek Heineger was 2 for 2 with a double and a RBI.

The Bears (15-4) knocked out Rangely 21-4 in five innings in the other semifinal.


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