La Junta baseball falls on the road to Pueblo Central to open the 2021 season
After nearly two years away from the diamond thanks to a global pandemic, prep baseball returned to the Runyon Sports Complex on Tuesday.
Behind a seven-run second inning, Pueblo Central High School rolled past La Junta 10-4 in a nonleague affair on Andenucio Field, signifying the opening of the 2021 season that was pushed back nearly two months from its normal March start.
The Wildcats, loaded with eight freshmen on their roster, saw two of them perform admirably on the mound in the Class 4A/3A matchup. Zach Mehess and Hugo Sanchez-Algien combined to allow just five Tiger hits.
Central improved to 1-0 while La Junta fell to 0-1.
"We started out like gang busters, hit the ball, made plays," Central coach Brad Ranson said. "When they made the pitching change we couldn't adapt to the second pitcher coming in. That was unfortunate.
"After a while, we got a little complacent and weren't aggressive as we were early. We put the bat on the ball and ran the bases well. You can't win them all if you don't win the first one."
Here are four takeaways from the La Junta-Central matchup:
Crooked number in second
The Wildcats broke the game open early with a seven-run second, sending 11 batters to the plate against La Junta starter Luke Garner.
Leading 2-1 entering the inning, Ethan Martinez and Mehess drove in runs and Ryley Roth added a double. Sanchez-Algien blasted a two-run double into left-center field for two RBIs to make it 6-1.
Ayden Natylon followed with a single before Julian Volk legged out an infield single. Three runs crossed on a throwing error to make it 9-1.
Solid freshmen pitching
Mehess went four innings, allowing just two runs on four hits. He struck out four and walked three.
"At the start, I was a little bit nervous but once I found my groove, I was all right," Mehess said. "Just first-game jitters, first time playing varsity. I couldn't figure my breaking ball early."
Sanchez-Algien relieved in the fifth and tossed three innings. He allowed two runs, one unearned and just one hit. Like Mehess, he struck out four and walked three.
"Freshman playing varsity baseball," Ranson said about his two young right-handers. "When you have two guys like Zach and Hugo that can throw strikes when they get their curve balls going, they are going to be pretty good."
Tigers' Salas a standout
Chris Salas had a strong day for La Junta, both at the plate and on the mound.
He walked three times and scored three of the Tigers' four runs.
On the mound, he relieved Garner in the third inning and held the Wildcats at bay. He surrendered only one run in four innings and one hit. He struck out five and walked three.
Tough road ahead
With the compacted season, games will come fast and furious.
The South-Central League season starts next week and Central gets two of the league favorites Pueblo West and Pueblo County on Tuesday and Thursday..
"We have Pueblo West and Pueblo County and that will definitely be a test for us," Ranson said "We're excited and know they are really good baseball teams. It will definitely be a challenge for us."
Chieftain senior sports reporter Jeff Letofsky can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jeffletofsky