Pitching carries Paonia to state baseball title
PUEBLO — One year ago, the Paonia High School baseball players stood on the grass at Hobbs Field with tears of disappointment streaming down their faces.
Saturday, the tears flowed again, but for a very different reason.
When Colby Simpson fielded a routine ground ball in the seventh and fired it to Dagan Rienks for the final out, redemption was complete.
The Eagles were once again state champions on the diamond.
They beat Rocky Ford 6-0 in the Class 2A championship game at the Runyon Field complex for their seventh baseball title and first since 2003. Earlier in the day, the Eagles (25-0) beat County Line 10-0 to advance to the title game.
Paonia didn’t want to leave anything to chance after a 4-2 loss in last year’s 2A semifinals.
“Coming here last year thinking we had a pretty good shot at it and coming up short in the first game definitely leaves a feeling of wanting to come back and wanting to come back on top,” Trevor Smith said. “We did and it’s the only thing that matters.”
Smith threw a complete-game shutout, allowing only four hits and walking one in the title game. He helped his own cause offensively, going 2 for 3 — including a monster home run in the third inning.
The solo shot put Paonia up 4-0 and was the moment they began to feel those championship vibes.
“He crushed that ball,” coach Nate Miller said. “I thought we had some moments where we really could’ve pounded it to them, but we couldn’t get it done. That was a real momentum picker upper right there.”
Between Smith and Kayden Seriani, Paonia pitchers allowed no runs, surrendered only eight hits and struck out a 20 hitters over 13 innings Saturday.
Counting the first rounds of the state playoffs, the Eagles outscored their four opponents 29-2.
The Eagles’ championship ambitions couldn’t have been placed in better hands. And the offensive output had no problem carrying over from the 10-run win over County Line.
“A lot of players who were struggling hit the ball well,” Seriani said. “We had all that rolling over into the second game and it made the second game easier for us. We had a (winning) mindset early in the day, but we tried to humble ourselves early in the process.”
In the six-inning win over County Line, Seriani was a dominating force on the mound, like he has been all season.
The junior struck out 15, which accounted for 15 of the 18 total outs. He also gave up four hits.
To advance to the semifinal game, the Eagles needed Seriani to pitch a light’s out game against North Fork Valley rival Hotchkiss. That’s what the right-hander did, throwing a no-hitter to lead Paonia to a 1-0 win over the Bulldogs.
The Eagles’ unbeaten season is impressive considering the nonleague schedule they played, which included a come-from-behind 7-5 win over Grand Junction High School. The Eagles scored six runs in the seventh to keep their dreams of an undefeated season alive.
In 20 of its wins this season, Paonia limited opponents to two runs or less.
Saturday’s victory gives the Western Slope two state baseball titles after Nucla won the 1A title last weekend.