Top-seeded Panthers open district play against Ignacio

Rangely baseball players Chas Byerly, left, and Jason Stults listened to a post-game talk from coaches during a doubleheader against Meeker on April 17.
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Rangely baseball players Chas Byerly, left, and Jason Stults listened to a post-game talk from coaches during a doubleheader against Meeker on April 17.
RANGELY I Just how far has the Rangely High School baseball team come in the past five years?
To coaches Wes Torsell and Paul Fortunato, it’s almost hard to describe.
“They’ve put in a lot of hard work, and all of this hasn’t happened overnight,” said Torsell, the head coach, who has Fortunato as one of his assistants. “It took a good long time for this to happen. So to go from having losing records in the summertime and spring to having a 13-3 high school record is pretty dang good.”
The record shows that, but so does the team’s Class 2A Western Slope League title. It’s given the Panthers a chance at a regional tournament berth, which comes Saturday in Cortez during the District 1 and 2 Tournament.
The Panthers, the No. 1 seed in District 2, will open tournament play at noon Saturday against Ignacio, the No. 2 seed from District 1. Though the loser’s season is finished, the winner earns an automatic berth into the regional round of the Class 2A State Tournament and will play either Dolores (No. 1, District 1) or Paonia (No. 2, District 2) for regional seeding purposes.
The four-team, Region 3 tournament will be played in Alamosa on May 15, with the winner advancing to the state tournament’s final four at Englewood High School May 21 and 22.
It’s an opportunity to add to what has already been a successful season, especially considering seasons past.
Fortunato, now in his fifth season with the program as both an assistant and head coach, recalled the laid-back approach people took toward baseball when he came on for the first time. He said people treated it like an “extracurricular program,” noting there was no stable summer program in place and no solid foundation to build the high school program on.
That changed, though. A summer program was immediately implemented following his first high school season, as did the addition of close to 40 to 50 games played every summer since. They included American Legion B-level baseball, Connie Mack baseball and whatever tournaments in Colorado, Wyoming or Utah happened to have an opening.
That extra on-field time, along with the added success the baseball team has had compared to other sports at the school, has contributed to this season’s success thus far.
“Losing is not fun at all, and we didn’t have much success in any (team) sport,” said senior third baseman and pitcher Kindal Cushman in reference to the football team’s 2-7 record and the boys’ basketball team’s sub-.500 season. “It’s like everyone actually wants to be out there because we actually have a chance to win.”
And win the Panthers have thanks, in part, to a stellar offensive lineup.
Six players on Rangely’s roster — Kacey Denny, Adam Dahl, Dillon McTague, Kody Denny, Cushman and Chas Byerly — have season batting averages of .500 or better headed into Tuesday’s doubleheader at Hayden. Dahl had hit a team-high six home runs for the Panthers, who were scoring an average of 12.4 runs per game.
That lineup was humbled last week, however, in an 11-0 loss to the Grand Junction Central junior varsity team. It proved to be a wake-up call of sorts for Rangely, which knows the teams at the district tournament will be more challenging than their league opponents.
“That game helped us to see what we need to work on,” junior center fielder Kacey Denny said.
Rangely’s pitching staff has been anchored by freshman McTague, the team’s No. 1 starter and one of two lefties on the pitching staff. Kody Denny serves as the Panthers’ No. 2 starter, and Cushman is the team’s closer when he’s not playing third base.
Of course, the Panthers would love to close out a regional-tournament berth with a victory over Ignacio — which is why they’re not thinking too far ahead.