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Hotchkiss, Paonia title matchup possible

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Could the North Fork baseball teams face off in the state championship baseball game?

It's possible.

It's been four years since they've gone this deep into the playoffs, but the Hotchkiss Bulldogs made the final four in Class 2A state baseball. The Bulldogs are ranked fourth and advanced to the final four with an eighth-inning win over Rocky Ford (18-5). The Melloneers, the team that lost to Paonia in the 2017 state championship game, were ranked fifth in state.

"Rocky Ford is a very good team," said head coach Blake Carlquist. Despite being under pressure, Hotchkiss came through with several big plays.

After a scoreless first inning they trailed, 3-1, at the end of the second inning, then scored two runs to tie the game up in the third.

After three scoreless innings, in the top of the seventh Hotchkiss took a three-run lead. Rocky Ford battled back, said Carlquist, scoring three runs in the bottom of the seventh to send the game into extra innings.

In the final inning the Bulldogs scored five runs with two outs. The team didn't panic, said Carlquist. Instead, they came through with several big plays, including doubles by Jonathan Gonzalez and Jesus Macias.

On the mound, Gonzalez allowed eight hits and four earned runs and struck out 14 in 6.2 innings. Eli Kirk stepped in for the win, allowing two hits and striking out two in the final inning, said Carlquist.

The Bulldogs opened the two-day tournament on Friday with a 14-6 quarterfinal win over 13th ranked Dawson School (13-8).

In the first inning the Bulldogs scored nine runs. Dawson School scored five in the second. Hotchkiss scored five more unanswered runs. Kirk was brought in to finish and earned the win, allowing Dawson four hits and one run and striking out 11 in five and one-third innings of work.

Kirk had to give his arm a rest and hadn't pitched in a game for two weeks, said Carlquist. To come back and pitch two wins "was impressive."

In the sixth inning senior Josie Hiatt made a diving catch in right field that could have turned into a triple or home run, said Carlquist. "It was a very big play at a key time."

It was also one of many impressive performances for the team, said Carlquist. "Our kids played well under pressure."

This Saturday morning Hotchkiss will face No. 1 Peyton (21-1) in championship semifinals.

On the opposite side of the bracket, the defending state champion Paonia Eagles defeated 14th seed Front Range Christian, 11-2, then eliminated No. 6 Limon (15-6), 10-0, in quarterfinals.

Paonia will face No. 7 Dayspring Christian Academy, which upset second seeded Sedgwick County, 14-10, in quarterfinals.

Paonia was undefeated in 2017, and wasn't scored on in state semifinals or the championship game. They lost a talented group of six seniors, and weren't expected to get deep into the playoffs this season.

But head coach Nate Miller said he has faith in this team and knew they had a shot at making the championships. "People thought I was crazy," said Miller after defeating Hotchkiss to win the district tournament on May 12. "But I said, you know, I think we're going to be better than we were. I don't have quite the talent we had last year, but we've got a team, and they stick together and they play hard together and they practice. They just don't have any issues."

It may be a different team with different kids, but all of the starting players including all-state first team pitcher Kaden Seriani and catcher/pitcher Jaden Miller, also played on that team. "I think we're pretty solid all the way around," said Miller.

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