BELGRADE — In the inaugural season of high school baseball for Montana, the Belgrade Panthers are in a league of their own. A large part in due to this team’s solid senior core.
Two of those seniors, the dynamic duo in Collin Delph, the pitcher, and Diego Casas, the catcher, have been playing together since they basically started playing the sport of baseball.
Their level of trust is second nature, which has been so present in a season so great.
“He’s been catching me, since what, we were nine, all stars?,” Delph said as he looked to Casas for confirmation. “So, he’ll always be my go to guy behind the plate.”
“I’ll always get asked who I want catching me at practice, and I always want Diego,” Delph continued. “He’s a great guy behind the plate and I trust him. He knows my movement. He knows what pitches I like to throw and where I like to throw them, so I’ve always trusted him behind the plate to make the right calls.”
For Casas, the feeling is mutual. He wouldn’t want to catch for anyone else.
“He’s the best pitcher I’ve caught,” Casas said. “I trust him fully. If he says going to put it in the dirt, he’s going to put it in the dirt. If he says it’s going to keep it off the dirt, he’s going to keep it off the dirt. So, I just trust him a lot.”
They know each other better than they know themselves at times, and that trust has mainly been built off the field. They’re friends before it all, a key that leads to their success on the field.
“They’re relationship is so cool,” Belgrade Panthers Manager Joel Barnett said. “They play catch together every day. They’re really good friends. You can tell that they’re really good friends the way they joke around, but also hold each other accountable.”
They’re not just great players, but great people.
“Those guys are great leaders for us too,” Barnett continued. “They play a huge role for our team. I feel like a lot of times as they go, we go.”
This tandem has started to separate themselves from the rest of the pack this season, they’re one of – if not, the best — in the Treasure State. You can see their confidence when they play, and it starts from the moment Delph takes the mound.
“It’s really just the focus, just telling myself every game, I’m not going to lose to whoever’s in the box,” Delph stated. “It’s all confidence for me. I want to go in there knowing that I’m going to beat whoever’s in the box, knowing that my field is going to back me up even if they do get a bat on the ball.”
These two don’t just lead the defense; they’re an integral part of putting runs on the scoreboard, something their coach has seen the most growth as this season progresses.
“Diego right now, he’s a really scary hitter to have to face for opposing teams.,” Barnett explained. “He’s a leadoff hitter, who’s a catcher with some pop, and so that’s a real nightmare to have to face. And also he’s very fast. And so, to have a catcher that flies around the bases; it’s really nice.”
And when it comes to coaching them, it obviously isn’t too hard. They’re seasoned and setting the examples for those next up.
“They’re both so businesslike it’s kind of easy to be loose with them because they’ve earned that,” Barnett said. “I’ve told this team multiple times we can hang lose if we can hang mature.”
As the regular season ramps up into its final stretch, Belgrade will continue to try and separate from the rest. It starts day by day, practice by practice. A journey that might just end in a title, the first-ever for this state.
“I love it, you know,” Casas smiled. “We’re just proving what we’ve always known, is that we’re great at baseball. And that we come up short, but we’re looking to change that here. I love the target on our back. I love that everyone’s watching us, watching our moves, and we just got to go prove them.”
Up next, it’s senior night for this duo on Monday. It’ll be one of the last times they take homefield together as Panthers.