‘Horns on the ball against rival Aspen | AspenTimes.com

‘Horns on the ball against rival Aspen

Jon MaletzAspen, CO Colorado

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

ASPEN Basalt pitcher Alexa Aitken was admittedly tense in the middle innings Tuesday as her team clung to a 3-1 lead over rival Aspen.The Longhorns quickly turned those nerves into grins. Basalt sent nine batters to the plate and scored five runs in both the sixth and the seventh and, on the strength of a six-hit, nine-strikeout performance from Aitken, coasted to the 13-1 victory – its third straight. “I got out a little nervous out there,” the sophomore said. “The offense came through. They always do.”The Basalt bats, which produced 30 runs in Saturday’s doubleheader sweep of Eagle Valley’s JV, had just six hits Tuesday against Aspen’s Liz Baty. Their aggressiveness on the bases – coupled with costly Skiers miscues – however, broke the game open.Aitken led off the top of the sixth with a walk and later scored the second of her three runs on a wild pitch. Aspen catcher Sarah Nininger’s two errors and a hit batsman with the bases loaded yielded three more Longhorns runs. Basalt’s No. 9 hitter, Jessie Anderson, drove in the inning’s fifth run with a sharp single to right field.

Aitken, who had two hits, reached on an infield single to open the seventh, and five of the first six Basalt batters scored. Baty walked three in the inning and seven total – five yielded runs. “Once we go downhill, we give up,” said Nininger, who had three of Aspen’s six hits.”For five innings I liked what we were doing,” Aspen coach Ed Zane said. “We still had a chance to come back. After the sixth it was out of reach.”Basalt (7-7 overall, 1-2 3A Western Slope) used some heads-up play on the bases to strike for two runs in the second. Abby King, who reached on a dropped third strike, broke for home with runners on first and third when Nininger fired to charging shortstop Grace Seigle; Seigle’s relay to the plate sailed high. Kira Selucky later scored on a passed ball.Aitken stretched the lead to three in the third when she doubled to left with two outs and scored on an infield error.

Aspen (8-3) pulled to within two when Baty scored on an error in the fourth. Base-running blunders cost the Skiers a chance to pull closer, however. Whitney Hubbell was thrown out at home in the third, and Seigle’s one-out single in the fourth was negated when she was called out for leaving early on an attempted steal. Basalt catcher Kenzie Kuhn fired a strike to second to catch Sierra McKinney stealing to end the fifth.”Kenzie shuts down the other team’s running games,” Basalt coach Bruce Matherly said. “It’s hard to believe she’s just a freshman. We had six freshman and three sophomores out there.”Aitken pitched liked a veteran. She struck out at least one batter in six of seven innings and walked one. The bottom third of the Skiers order was a combined 0-for-8 with four strikeouts against the right-hander. “She always seems to step up against us,” Zane said. “We were on quite a bit of a roll, and it hurts to lose one after winning a bunch, especially one we could’ve taken.”

The Skiers had won five straight heading into Tuesday’s game, including two come-from-behind victories Saturday against Eagle Valley. In Game 1 of the doubleheader, they erased a 10-run deficit in the final two innings.There’d be no late-inning heroics this time around, however. Aitken worked around a one-out single by striking out two in the sixth. She stranded two Skiers in the seventh after inducing a fly out to center and a groundball back to the mound to end the game.”She’s realizing there’s more to pitching than throwing hard,” Matherly said. “She was mixing up her pitches and changing locations.”If we stick together, we could get really good.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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