Longhorns bow out against 4A Rifle | AspenTimes.com

Longhorns bow out against 4A Rifle

Nate PetersonAspen, CO Colorado

Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times

BASALT New field, new uniforms, new attitude. Basalts young softball team lost its first game on its pristine new diamond Thursday to Rifle, but not before making it interesting, going toe-to-toe with the upperclassmen-laden 4A Western Slope champions for four scoreless innings before surrendering six in the final three. All it took was one mistake in the fifth inning for Rifle to break open a scoreless pitchers duel between its ace, Alissa Skinner, and Longhorns starter Alexis Aitken.With two runners on, Rifles designated hitter Tamara Kaczmarek hit a routine fly ball to center field that Basalt center fielder Morgan Armbruster camped out underneath for what would have been the third out. Armbruster took her eye off the ball at the last second, however, and it bounced off the webbing in her glove an error that allowed Rifles Chelsea Webb to run home from second and give Rifle what ended up being the game-winner in a 6-0 victory. That the Longhorns (4-5 overall) went the full five innings against the Bears and Skinner was an accomplishment in itself. Skinner completely dominated a Basalt team that featured four first-team all-league players last season, throwing a perfect game in a 10-0 rout that was called after five innings.

Skinner was again overpowering Thursday, striking out six Longhorns in seven innings and facing the minimum number of batters in innings three through six. Still, the Longhorns starting six freshmen and three sophomores managed to keep the game close with error-free defense and clutch pitching from Aitken, who allowed four earned runs on seven hits. When youre playing a team like Rifle, who is 4A, and who is picked to win their league just like last year, all the little things are magnified, Basalt coach Bruce Matherly said. As a team, were learning that you cant have these little mistakes against a really good team and expect to stay in competition as the game goes on.Aitken got into jams in the first and second, but bore down on the mound when it really mattered to throw hittable pitches that her defense turned into outs. With two runners on and one out in the first, Aitken gloved a line drive right back to her from Kaczmarek, then induced a ground ball from Marissa Wilkins that Basalt shortstop Jamie Matherly threw to first to end the inning. After walking Rifles Samantha Young in the second, then giving up a double to Tori Fazzi that put runners on second and third, Aitken again delivered, inducing flyouts from Amber Odekirk and Skinner. They did a really good job defensively, Rifle coach Cindy Skinner said. Everything we hit they seemed to be able to get to. Thats when we had to change our game plan a little bit, just trying to get the girls to back off that first pitch and get a better focus on the last two.

After scoring its first run, Rifle seized the momentum, adding another in the top of the fifth when Megan McWilliams stole home on a designed pitch out. The Bears struck for two runs in the top of the sixth off two hits, then added two more in the seventh when Wilkins roped a bases-clearing line drive to deep left field. Aitken said, after pitching twice in consecutive days at the Eagle Valley Invitational last weekend, that her arm eventually just wore down in the later innings Thursday. Its just the adrenaline that gets you through a lot of the time, she said. Youre throwing as hard as you can and youve got to get them out of there. I think, as a team, we started to wear down a little bit more. Once they had a few runs, it was like, OK, we should be playing harder. But my arm, I was kind of wearing down, too. Given how his team fared last year against the Bears, Matherly said he was more than pleased with how his young team responded to a big challenge. The thing that weve been trying to develop the most is our outfield and to get them to make the consistent plays, the routine flies and what not, he said. I thought they ran down a couple that were tough plays out there today. I thought they looked good. The good teams, its not that you have to make the spectacular play, but you have to make the fundamental play every time, and if you can do that, I think you can be successful. Thats our goal, just to make the routine plays all the time. Basalt next plays at Gunnison in a Saturday doubleheader, which is the 3A Western Slope opener for both teams. Nate Petersons e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com