Paonia's Kayden Seriani boasts a blessed arm, a humble confidence and a sweet pair of cowboy boots.
"I got a pair of boots that I bought off of my principal down here at Paonia High School. I wear my boots before every game," Seriani said. "I kind of wear them everywhere, even down in Phoenix with 120-degree weather. It's a trademark almost."
Something must be working down at Paonia as the Eagles are off to a 10-0 start and are ranked No. 1 in the latest CHSAANow.com Class 2A baseball rankings.
"They haven't missed a beat. We try to come together as quick as we can during the high school season," Paonia coach Nate Miller said. "We've got everything going."
Paonia has six wins decided by run-rule — three of those coming with no-hitters through five innings.
"A 10-0 start is good because it builds confidence. All of our pitchers are riding sky high," said Seriani, who is committed to Grand Canyon University. "Come state time, that's going to be great because when we get on the mound throwing strikes. You have to give the batter a chance, and when you're throwing strikes, you have a better chance yourself.
"What I'm most worried about with the 10-0 start is it getting to our heads more than it should. I don't want to get to the semifinals like last year and not be able to close the deal in the last inning."
Last season, the Eagles started 18-0 before dropping their final game of the regular season to Hotchkiss. Then, Paonia advanced through districts, including a narrow win over Hotchkiss, to move to the regional round. There, the Eagles beat Sargent and Akron, and faced Limon in the semifinals.
In that game, Paonia led 2-1 before giving up three runs in the top of the seventh. Limon advanced to the title game, where it lost to Dawson.
This season, Seriani has three wins, a 0.64 earned run average and 43 strikeouts during the 10-0 start.
"Our offense sets the tone. When you get on top, to stay on top and to maintain a lead with the bat is a huge part of our plan," Seriani said. "It sets the pace for the game. When you set a pace of four runs an inning, it helps your pitcher and gives them confidence. Ultimately, it makes a better ballclub."
The junior also leads the state in home runs with six.
"Kayden is an all-around good player, he can do it all. He's a very humble kid, and we're very lucky and happy to have him," Miller said. "I've known him since he was little, watching him coming up. He works hard, he's always playing baseball and working at it. He works hard in practice. He's blessed with an amazing arm, that's for sure."
The power surge translates to a 1.400 slugging percentage (fourth in the state). His 19 runs batted in and 18 runs provide a spark for the Paonia offense.
"Really, I've been going for more accuracy at the plate, you know, better consistency," Seriani said. "Having the team be able to rely on someone to be able to get a basehit when the time comes. I really haven't been trying to hit the long ball, but the park at Paonia is pretty small."
Seriani's biggest value comes on the mound.
"Kayden gives us a spark. They just know they're going to win when he's on the mound," Miller said. "When he's on the mound, that's when we're at our best. That's when the team plays their best, I think that's when we hit the best. Everyone is just more confident.
"He's always best on the mound. He can shut down a team at any given moment. He helps us at the plate, any time he steps up he can hit one out. He helps us everywhere, but I think his strength is pitching."
Seriani's winning mentality is to take a humble approach and realize that a lot of baseball is out of his control.
"As far as pitching goes, the mentality is just throw the ball over the plate. You have to give the hitter his chance no matter what and it's best to make him hit the ball rather than walk people," Seriani said. "I have a lot of trust in my defense and it's a huge relief knowing that I have a strong defense behind me to pick me up when I'm not having an on day."
It can be hard to stay humble as a star player in a small town, but Seriani continually put the credit towards his teammates.
"You have to be humble in a school full of amazing athletes," Seriani said. "Being humble in the sport that you're fairly good at is key."
Seriani pointed to one experience last year at the Area Code game that keeps him humble and helped him grow as a player.
"The pressure really got to me. My composure broke and I didn't throw my best," Seriani said. "I've beat that out of myself and bettered myself in the way that once I'm presented with a situation like that, I can overcome and not fail. It's been a goal and that's kind of a clicking moment.
"From your fails, you have to proceed to get better. After those, I told myself that I didn't want to be in that situation again where I couldn't hold my own."
So far, he's holding his own across all classifications. Paonia took down a Class 5A Grand Junction team 7-5 on Tuesday after scoring six runs in the seventh inning.
"I was really proud of the nine guys on the field — instead of giving up in the last inning and rolling over, we grinded. I'm really proud of the fact that it's not an individual team," Seriani said. "I'm really proud of the heart that we have up at Paonia. I think that how all of us came together there at the end, it was truly something special. I just wish the team realizes how big of a moment that was for everybody."
Seriani also doesn't see his performance thusfar as dominance. The word grind came up again and again.
"You just have to grind. Next pitch, just get to the next one," Seriani said. "If you can always get to the next batter, you have a chance. And as long you get your chance, you see good things."
Seriani and Paonia will continue on a humble grind.
"We don't want to be a cocky Paonia team," Seriani said. "We want to be a humble, respected team coming into state, which is huge for Paonia. We really take pride in that."