‘Baby’ Longhorns softball ready to rebuild following loss of four all-leaguers | AspenTimes.com

‘Baby’ Longhorns softball ready to rebuild following loss of four all-leaguers

Nate PetersonAspen, CO Colorado

BASALT Basalt softball is starting over – again.For the second straight year, coach Bruce Matherly is charged with the task of replacing a talented group of seniors. That includes his best hitter and pitcher from last season, 3A Western Slope first-teamer Lisa Warnecke.Gone, too, are three other all-leaguers – honorable-mention catcher Katie Mulcahy, first-team shortstop Jen Barton and first-team first baseman Cassie Meyer – instrumental in Basalt’s run to a third-place league finish and a second consecutive district berth.The cupboard isn’t completely bare: Three freshmen letter-winners who saw considerable playing time last season return, including Alexa Aitken, an all-league honorable mention in 2006 who figures to be Matherly’s No. 1 pitcher.While Matherly calls his group the “baby Longhorns,” he doesn’t expect them to play like timid underclassmen. The majority of the freshman and sophomores figuring to log considerable playing time this fall were on the summer league team Matherly coached and have been playing together since they were in elementary school.”We’re trying to lay a really solid foundation this year,” Matherly said. “The freshmen who started last year are going to be the players we are going to lean on this year, and what we’ve got now is the next wave of freshmen coming in. It’s a good group of players, and I think they have a huge upside. They’re young, but they’re not inexperienced.”For a team with a host of new faces, it seems fitting that Basalt will play its home games at its new field wearing newly designed uniforms. The new softball diamond is the most recent addition to the high school’s athletic complex, which has been funded by donations from a citizens group called Field of Dreams and a bond voters passed in 2005. For the past two years, Basalt played its softball games at the middle school, a nondistinct setting that failed to lure a number of student fans. Matherly said his players couldn’t be more excited to play in front of classmates and parents on their new field – adjacent to the new baseball field.”It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “It’s just this summer that we finished it and started playing games on it. It’s a beautiful field. We’ve got the red diamond pro infield, the yellow-capped outfield rail and really nice grass. It’s on par with the Aspen fields.”While his team is young, Matherly doesn’t think it’s unreasonable to shoot for another district berth. His team will certainly get a sense of what it needs to improve upon during the next three weekends while playing against some quality 4A and 5A competition in tournaments across the Western Slope.Basalt opens with the Aspen Invitational this weekend, then travels to Palisade for the Peach Fuzz tournament over Labor Day weekend, then the Eagle Valley Invitational Sept. 7-8. The Longhorns will also host 4A Rifle in their home opener Sept. 13 before opening their league slate against Norwood on Sept. 15.”They’re going to have to grow up really quickly,” Matherly said. Much of Basalt’s success will ride on the arm of Aitken, a 3A Western Slope honorable mention last fall who started at third base and relieved Warnecke on the mound. The sophomore was also one the Longhorns’ best at the plate, logging an on-base percentage of .571 while hitting .386 in 63 at-bats.Matherly said he feels confident the sophomore is ready to carry the pitching load. Aitken was forced into the starter’s role at the district tournament last season when Warnecke was off taking her SATs and pitched her team to gritty come-from-behind 12-11 victory over Alexander Dawson.”The thing with Alex is she throws hard, but for her to be successful, she has to keep her pitches down,” Matherly said. “If she does that, she’ll get a lot of strike outs and a lot of ground-ball outs.”The returners backing up Aitken are sophomore second basemen Abby King, sophomore left fielder Monique Rodriguez and the team’s only upperclassman, junior outfielder Maggie Summers.Freshman are slated to fill the remaining spots in the infield, including the considerable holes after the departures of Barton and Meyer. Jessie Anderson is expected to start at first while Jamie Matherly – the coach’s daughter – takes over at short. With Aitken doing most of the pitching, Lane Calabro will start at third. Morgan Armbruster can also play on the corner, but she will likely see most of her playing time in center field. And catching Aitken’s pitches will be Kenzie Kuhn, a freshman at Glenwood Springs who will suit up for the Longhorns because her school doesn’t field a team.”New field, new uniforms and a new-edition team,” Matherly in response to a question about what fans should expect this season. “It’s going to be fun.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com.

2006 record: 8-10 overall, 4-4 3A Western SlopeKey departures: Katie Mulcahy, Cassie Meyer, Lisa Warnecke, Jennifer BartonKey returners: Alexa Aitken, Abby King, Monique Rodriguez, Maggie SummersCoach speak: “They’re going to have to grow up really quickly.” – Bruce Matherly