Dolores defends SJBL Bears baseball team staves off rival Dove Creek to win the league title

Trae Leach swings and hits an RBI single that scores the two winning runs in the sixth inning when the score was tied 8-8. Dolores hung on to win, 10-8. Enlargephoto

Journal/Sam Green

Trae Leach swings and hits an RBI single that scores the two winning runs in the sixth inning when the score was tied 8-8. Dolores hung on to win, 10-8.

Dove Creek had stormed back to take an 8-7 lead over rival Dolores.

The San Juan Basin League title was on the line with both teams tied atop the standings.

Last year’s Bears’ graduating class had won league titles all four years.

It was up to the youngsters to keep that going.

Junior second baseman Trae Leach stepped to the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning. The score was tied 8-8 after a RBI-double by freshman Kellen Gatzke. The count was 2-and-1. Then, Dalton Randolph’s pitch connected with Leach’s bat and the ball sailed into right field. Go-ahead Dolores runners Gatzke and sophomore pitcher Tyler Weir came home to make it 10-8. That’s how the final score read after game 1 of a doubleheader Saturday afternoon at Joe Rowell Park. The Bears held off a late Bulldogs’ rally in the second game to win 9-7. More importantly, Dolores clinched share of the SJBL title and the No. 1-seed in Saturday’s 2A District I tournament in Cortez.

“We’ve had problems all year playing a clean game of baseball. But we did have some timely hits and put some runs together,” Bears’ coach Jim Everin said. “We made the fundamental play, I guess when we had to. Pitchers threw strikes. I’m happy with the doubleheader today.”

Weir pitched a complete game 1 for Dolores (7-9, 6-3 2A/1A SJBL), earning the win. The Bears have won four straight.

“It’s awesome. Baseball has it ups and downs, and we rode it a lot today. It felt good,” Weir said. “They’ve been beating a couple teams that beat us a couple times. It felt real good to know that we could beat them solidly.”

Dove Creek (5-11, 4-5 SJBL) lost all three meetings to Dolores this season. But coach Ken Soper feels all three games could have went in the other direction with more consistent play.

“The kids have been coming from behind lately pretty good, but we fall too far at the beginning to come back,” he said.

Despite fellow 1A SJBL rival Nucla posting a 6-3 league record to tie Dolores for first-place, it’s the Bulldogs advancing to district play. Dove Creek took 2-of-3 meetings with Nucla and will play Cotopaxi (12-5, 10-2 Southern Peaks League) in a 1-game playoff to advance to regionals.

The first half of the doubleheader was a back-and-forth rivalry classic. Dove Creek put two on the board in the top of the first and Dolores countered with two in the bottom half.

The Bulldogs retook the lead 3-2 in the second when Nick Jones stole home because of a pass ball. In the bottom of the second, Dolores tied the game. The Bears took its first lead, however, in the third by capitalizing on mountainous Dove Creek errors.

Ethan Upton grounded to Bulldogs’ third baseman Tyson Smith in what looked like would be the third out. But Smith’s throw was errant to first and Upton was safe with the bases loaded. Two wild pitches, a pass ball and right field drop later, four Bears had crossed home plate making it 7-3 Dolores.

“We always give up one big inning. One inning usually kills us,” Soper said. “Today, there was the four runs in that one inning. Once we can start preventing that one big inning, I think we can do OK.”

But the Bulldogs would bite their way back in the fourth. Tyler Ebberts and Klancey Krafka each hit a RBI-single- and-double. Ebberts’ hit sent one home and Krafka’s double brought in two, which brought Dove Creek within one at 7-6.

Randolph regained the lead 8-7 for the visitors in the bottom of the fifth with a RBI-single that scored two. The Bulldogs didn’t respond, though, in the sixth and seventh innings after Leach’s go-ahead single.

Leach hit 2-for-4 with two Runs Batted In. Gatzke also batted 2-of-4 with a RBI. Weir got the win on the mound and threw five strikeouts.

Ebberts led Dove Creek batting 2-for-3 with a RBI. Randolph took the loss pitching, recording five K’s.

In game two, it appeared it would be all Bears, as they scored nine of the game’s first 11 runs.

Trailing 9-2, the Bulldogs chipped away at the deficit with a big fifth inning.

Krafka belted a RBI-double to center that scored one run. Three hitters later, Krafka would slide home because of pass ball. Smith brought more life into the Dove Creek dugout with a two-run, RBI-double. The visiting faithful cheered, as their team was now down just 9-6. Dolores starting pitcher Gatzke was pulled after 4 2/3. Reliever Stetson Hamilton got the final out of the top of the fifth.

Bulldogs’ catcher Alex Ogas made in 9-7 with a RBI-single in the sixth. Dove Creek starter Dalton Davis retired the Bears top of the order in the bottom of the sixth, leaving the Bulldogs one more inning to at least tie.

But, Weir returned to the mound.

The tallest player on the field was brought back in to close the game and the division. Weir walked Smith. But then he struck out Zoey Young, Jessica Heaton and popped Randolph up to shortstop, preserving the Bears’ victory.

“Dolores made outstanding plays on us that killed us,” Soper said. “We hit the ball hard right at them and they made four great catches. The outfield did. We didn‘t get no breaks. To win a game, I feel you got to be lucky or get some breaks. We didn’t.”

Gatzke won for Dolores and hit 2-of-4 with two RBIs. Nic Hassinger hit 2-for-3 with a RBI and Kolten Shull batted 2-for-4 with a RBI.

“It’s good to know we didn’t let past teams down by not getting districts’ No. 1-seed and a league title. It just feels good to know we have all that stuff locked up,” Weir said. “(But), as a team, I feel like we have that one big inning and then we kind of coast off of that for the rest of the game. We need to pick up our bats and get one or two runs every inning.”

Smith was 2-of-3 for the Bulldogs with two RBIs. Young hit 2-of-4 as well.

“I was really proud of the tail end of my batting order today,” Soper said. “The girls (Young and Heaton) got some base hits, they did some sacrifice bunting good. I thought they did what they should have done.”

Dolores will play in the 2A District I tournament on Saturday at McAndrew Field. Ignacio is the No. 2-seed. Other opponents and times have yet to be determined.

“We’re going to have to play a clean game of baseball,” Everin said. “Pitchers are going to have to throw strikes. We’re going to have to have some timely hits and a lot of luck, a lot of luck. When not everybody does their job, it makes it a long day.”

Dove Creek will face Cotopaxi on Saturday with a location and time to be announced. The Bulldogs’ doubleheader today at Navajo Prep (Farmington, N.M.), has been cancelled.

See Thursday’s Journal for schedule updates.

Reach Bobby Abplanalp at bobbya@cortezjournal.com.

Dalton Davis dives safely back to second, as Dolores’ Kolten Shull jumps to catch a high pick-off throw. Enlargephoto

Journal/Sam Green

Dalton Davis dives safely back to second, as Dolores’ Kolten Shull jumps to catch a high pick-off throw.

The Bears’ Nic Hassinger is hit by a pitch in the second game of a doubleheader Saturday against Dove Creek at Joe Rowell Park in Dolores. He didn’t get on base because he did not try to evade the throw. Dolores won the second game, 9-7. Enlargephoto

Journal/Sam Green

The Bears’ Nic Hassinger is hit by a pitch in the second game of a doubleheader Saturday against Dove Creek at Joe Rowell Park in Dolores. He didn’t get on base because he did not try to evade the throw. Dolores won the second game, 9-7.