Aspen hopes early resilience pays late | AspenTimes.com

Aspen hopes early resilience pays late

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Jeremy Haack’s message was simple.

The Aspen softball team had just surrendered nine runs to Middle Park in the top of the fourth inning and faced an 11-0 deficit. The Skiers were one inning away from being mercied. They were one inning from leaving Granby early ” and with little more than two losses to show for a 200-mile trip.

The first-year coach gathered his players as they jogged off the field.

“I’m not going to quit coaching,” Haack told the girls. “Are you going to quit playing?”

It didn’t take long for him to get his answer. The Skiers responded with eight runs in their half of the fourth, leaning on clutch hits from junior Liz Baty and senior Chelsey Hanle to pull within three runs.

The Panthers answered back, quelled a late Aspen rally and pulled off a 16-12 victory. Still, after that result coupled with a 7-6 loss in Game 1 in which his team squandered a seventh-inning lead, Haack said he has reason for optimism.

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“We found out what kind of team we have,” added Haack. “After losing a tight first game, I was worried about a letdown. They showed some resiliency. … They could have quit, but they kept competing, and that’s something to be excited about.”

With just one week of practice to prepare for Middle Park, Haack said he wasn’t sure what to expect Tuesday. He was eager to see how certain players would adjust to new positions ” chief among them Hana Maclean’s move from the outfield to shortstop. He was eager to see how key contributors from last year’s squad would gel with talented but inexperienced youngsters.

The initial returns were positive, he said. Maclean settled in well and Hanle made two acrobatic catches in center field. 2007 All-Conference first baseman Whitney Hubbell was strong in the field and at the plate, as was Baty.

There were also some unexpected surprises. Sydney Mondry went 7-for-8 in the doubleheader and reached base eight times.

“She was batting sixth in our lineup,” said Haack, who replaces Ed Zane, who stepped down after 11 seasons. “Obviously, that’s going to change.”

Junior Annie Parker also provided a spark. Her two-out pinch-hit RBI single in the top of the seventh in the first game gave the Skiers a 6-5 lead.

Aspen missed the chance to pull out a win with consecutive infield throwing errors in the bottom of the inning that yielded the tying and winning runs. The latter came with two outs and a 2-2 count.

“We saw a glimpse of what we can be,” Haack said. “We made some great plays. But when it came down to it, we just gave them too many extra outs. That’s tough, but mistakes happen. You expect stuff to happen like that in the first game, especially when girls are playing new positions and some freshman are playing varsity for the first time. It’s a learning process.”

That process continues Saturday when the team hosts an exhibition tournament at the Aspen Recreation Center. Then, Aspen has nine days off before playing three games in the Eagle Valley tournament. There, the Skiers will get one more crack at Middle Park, Haack said.

The coach expects that outcome to be different. It remains to be seen whether his team can improve on last year when Aspen went 10-7, had a five-game win streak and earned a district berth.

With strength in numbers ” 19 players came out for the fall ” early enthusiasm and many positives to take away from the Middle Park trip, Haack said expectations are high.

“It’s so much fun to be out there every day and see how eager they are to learn and to help each other,” he added. “There’s some rust there, but it’s natural. I’m really encouraged. … I think it’s going to be an exciting season.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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