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Hustle, togetherness rally Pueblo Azteca baseball in second day at the 'Nuch

BY LUKE ZAHLMAN | The Pueblo Chieftain | JULY 17, 2021

Hustle makes it happen.

The four-word mantra is one Pueblo Azteca coach Mike Sanchez has even begun to impart on his bat boy — a member that's roughly a decade younger than the kids he coaches.

Down 10-0 and without a hit, Kyle Miller put it into action.

On a chopped, fourth-inning grounder, he hustled to first, eventually sliding into the base as part of Azteca's first hit. The effort propelled the club forward to the tune of eight runs in the frame, bringing the team back from nearly being mercy ruled again — with the game before being a five-inning, 12-3 loss to Cherry Creek.

Azteca eventually fell 10-9 after Burkburnett (Texas) held them without a run in the final two innings, but the moment only innings before represented the club's growth.

"It's just playing the game hard," Miller said. "Sanchez always preaches it. That's what I tried to do and it ended up working out in my favor."

Pueblo Azteca's Kyle Miller fires off a pitch against Cherry Creek during the Tony Andenucio Memorial Tournament on Friday July 16, 2021 at the Runyon Sports Complex. [Chieftain Photo/Zachary Allen]Pueblo Azteca's Kyle Miller fires off a pitch against Cherry Creek during the Tony Andenucio Memorial Tournament on Friday July 16, 2021 at the Runyon Sports Complex. [Chieftain Photo/Zachary Allen]Just before Miller's spark for the Azteca offense, the camaraderie of the team showed itself.

A commitment continues: Cherry Creek, Marc Johnson make trip down I-25 again to add to Andenucio Memorial baseball legacy

The moment came after a third inning in which Casey Thibault, one of the team's leading starters, was pulled after allowing several bloop and chopped hits. In all, the staff for Azteca allowed eight runs in the inning.

After all that, every teammate in the dugout rushed out following the final out of the stanza to give high fives and support. Mind you, the team is assembled from various schools across the city, including players from as far as Thibault's Fountain-Fort Carson High School.

"I'm proud of the way they responded," Sanchez said. "Some of these guys, I've known for three months and some for a lot longer than that. They buy in to what we're trying to do and they fight.

"We're trying to teach them how to do things the right way and what's expected at the next level."

The moment preceded the Azteca comeback, but also a moment the team's fight, without actual physicality, showed.

Midway through the matchup, when the frustrations of a negative-19 run differential in just the team's last nine innings began to show, they were able to contain it as a club.

The fifth inning saw a bang-bang play at home plate to nab Burkburnett's Jaime Fernandez who was trying to steal home. His club proceeded to argue the call, eventually getting aggressive toward Azteca.

The next inning, Fernandez fielded a grounder at shortstop and blew a kiss to the Azteca dugout before firing an errant throw to first.

The play came after umpires had warned both teams and urged them to focus on baseball — something Azteca did, even after the play.

Pueblo Azteca’s Danny Spence fires a throw to first base in the day two game against Cherry Creek during the Tony Andenucio Memorial Tournament on Friday July 16, 2021 at the Runyon Sports Complex. [Chieftain Photo/Zachary Allen]Pueblo Azteca’s Danny Spence fires a throw to first base in the day two game against Cherry Creek during the Tony Andenucio Memorial Tournament on Friday July 16, 2021 at the Runyon Sports Complex. [Chieftain Photo/Zachary Allen]Sanchez knows that's the wrong way to play. His guys support toward one another was one thing, but the ability to overcome distractions and continue to push back is something he feels will pay off moving into the Tony Andenucio Memorial Tournament's third day.

"You need to play this game with an edge, but under control," Sanchez said. "You've got to control your emotions but still play with an edge."

That edge, for Azteca, isn't shown in its ability to puff its chest. The team's edge is its ability to come together in such a short period of time — supporting and hustling for one another, even if it doesn't end up in a win.

At 1-2, Azteca will need a two-win final day to have a shot at a good spot in Sunday's final festivities.

Hustle can make it happen.

A leader reveals itself
Through the 'Nuch's first two days, the Colorado Recruits have begun to show their strength.

The Denver-based, Perfect Game-sponsored club has yet to lose in its first three matchups in which its outscored its opponents by 25 runs. The roster includes multiple college commitments — Christian Foutch, who's committed to last year's No. 1-ranked Arkansas, chief among them.

On the other side of the coin, the Grand Junction Travelers have yet to capture a win in four tries, including a loss to host Azteca, 2-0, in the tourney's opening day.

The Recruits, as well as Cherry Creek and Parker, will all be fighting Saturday for a top spot in Sunday's action.

Chieftain reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on Twitter: @lukezahlmann.

 

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