PALISADE (4/21/18) – The showdown for first place in the 4A Western Slope League lasted five and a half innings, plus two outs – then a barrage of walks, five straight to be precise, blew apart a 1-1 pitching duel, leading to a 9-1 Palisade win over Glenwood Springs in the first game of what became a doubleheader sweep.

The suspense didn’t last nearly that long in game two. Four, second-inning errors, added to three consecutive walks to the 7-8-9 hitters, mixed with a peculiar baserunning rule interpretation, and the emergence of the fearsome sophomore Bulldog sluggers led to a 15-0 demolition. It was a disappointing resolution to the battle between two previously unbeaten teams.

Glenwood’s Chano Gonzalez was up to the task for five and two-thirds innings of game one, evenly dueling Brett Wagner of the Bulldogs. A walk and two errors led to a 1-0 Palisade first-inning lead, but Gonzalez shut down the Bulldogs, who have averaged.421 as a team this season and more than eleven runs a game, on just two hits for the next four innings.

In the fourth, Gonzalez engineered a tie, all by himself. With one out, the Demon junior extended his season-long hitting streak to eleven games, grounding a single into centerfield, the first of the game off Wagner. Then while sophomore catcher Luke Sorensen was holding his glove in place, trying to convince the home umpire a pitch was a strike, Gonzalez took off for second, sliding in safely.

Wagner, who had thrown over to first three times, then tried a pick off at second without success. Finally, delivering a pitch, he was called for a balk when he glanced toward Gonzalez in mid-delivery. Consumed with the Demon runner dancing off third, Wagner bounced a pitch that caromed off Sorensen far enough for Gonzalez to slide home with the tying run.

Glenwood seemed about to break through as Wagner walked Cole Houston and hit Davis Deaton, but Kai Kanzer chased a curve ball for strike three. Angry at himself for going after a bad pitch to end the threat, Kanzer threw his bat down and was promptly ejected from the game.

That presented a problem for coach Eric Nieslanik, as his regular catcher, senior Jake Brown, was sitting out the first game for disciplinary reasons. No one else on the roster had varsity catching experience, as senior Chris Deaton is still recovering from surgery. So Nieslanik turned to the sophomore Houston.

The move from the outfield paid quick dividends as Houston turned a strike’em-out, throw’em-out doubleplay in the bottom of the fourth, helping keep the score tied despite Gonzalez’ fourth walk of the game.

Glenwood managed singles by Leo Anchondo in the fifth and Houston in the sixth, but stranded the runners. Gonzalez had his only 1-2-3 inning in the fifth, and retired the first two Bulldogs in the sixth, making it six outs in a row, but then the wheels came off the Demons’ first-place wagon.

Facing Wagner, Gonzalez had thrown 88 pitches, 53 for strikes, and on a 1-and-2 pitch, the Bulldog senior grounded a ball past the mound that found its way into centerfield. From that point on, sixteen of Gonzalez’ last 21 pitches were everywhere but the strike zone, resulting in four straight walks, two of which forced across runs, giving Palisade a 3-1 lead.

Another problem faced Nieslanik. Gonzalez was now at 112 pitches and clearly out of gas, but Houston, who pitched five strong innings in a 3-hit win over Cortez four days ago, was the only catcher left, so couldn’t pitch.

Nieslanik’s choices were few: Deaton would pitch game two; Brady Steen gave up eight runs in two-plus innings against Cortez; and Sam Fitzwilliams made his mound debut in the loss to Coal Ridge on Wednesday, walking two and hitting one in one-plus innings. That left sophomore Ash Stolley, who hadn’t pitched since earning a save in a 6-5 win over Steamboat on March 24.

Stolley allowed all three inherited runners to score, walking in the first one, then yielding a two-run single to Austin Bernal. Sophomores Jack Mohler and Stevenson Reynolds banged a double and single respectively to cap the eight-run explosion. Wagner completed the seven-inning game, allowing just three hits, walking only one, and striking out 11, winning his first game of the season. Gonzalez dropped to 4-2 with the loss.

Deaton got the start in game two and retired the side in the first inning on ten pitches. He made it four in a row, retiring Wagner to start the second, but then was betrayed by his defense with errors putting the next two runners aboard. The inning should have been over, but a wild pitch and errant pickoff throw scored the game’s first run. Sebo Campbell also tried to come home, but was caught in a run down.

Brown chased him toward third and was about to apply the tag when Campbell dodged into the grassy area between the basepath and the pitcher’s mound. Brown reached toward him with the ball, but Campbell ran around him and crossed the plate. When he was ruled safe by the home ump, Nieslanik immediately protested about the baseline violation, asking for an appeal to the third base ump. However, in his opinion Campbell was legally “an arm’s length” away, so Palisade led 2-0.

After the game, Deaton (2-2) made no excuses for what happened next. “I should have thrown strikes,” he said but instead walked the 7-8-9 hitters, just what led to the two-out downfall in game one. A single by Bernal made it 3-0 before a two-run error in left opened the flood gates. Three straight hits, including a final, two-run double by Campbell finished Deaton’s day with Palisade up 9-0. All nine runs were unearned.

Anchondo, making his pitching debut, and Houston were unable to cage the Bulldogs, yielding another six runs. Meanwhile, the Demons were locked into a frustrating pattern against Masson Barber (5-2), getting one hit and stranding one runner in every inning, due largely to line drives and deep shots to the outfield tracked down by Campbell and Mohler.

Glenwood (7-4, 5-2), which came into the doubleheader 5-0 in league play to the Bulldogs’ 7-0, now trails Palisade (11-4, 9-0) by three games. The Demons have two non-league games at Roaring Fork (Wednesday) and Denver Christian (Monday, April 30) before resuming league play at home with Eagle Valley May 2nd and concluding the regular season by hosting a make-up doubleheader with Summit, May 7.