Small ball, big aspirations | AspenTimes.com

Small ball, big aspirations

Nate Peterson

Aspen senior pitcher Brittney Britt fires a ball to senior catcher Carly Magill during practice on Upper Moore Field at Aspen High School Thursday. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

Aspen softball opened the season with a resounding 13-8 win against rival Basalt Saturday at Cedaredge – a good omen considering the team began its 2004 season with 12 consecutive losses. While a 15-5 loss to Cedaredge Saturday and an 11-1 defeat to Middle Park on Tuesday put the Skiers at 1-2 in the young season, seventh-year head coach Ed Zane said the outlook for Aspen softball this fall is much brighter than it was in 2004.The Skiers lost only one starter from last year’s 4-15 team to graduation while other teams in the 3A Western Slope suffered more substantial losses. Most importantly, the Skiers return fourth-year starter Carly Magill at catcher and starting pitcher Brittney Britt.With those two seniors leading the way, Zane said, the Skiers should surprise some Slope foes who see Aspen as an automatic win on the schedule. “With fast-pitch softball, it’s all about pitching and catching,” Zane said. “Our catcher is phenomenal. Our pitcher really came around last year. As long as we’re throwing strikes, we have a pretty good defense that can back them up.”

The biggest problem area so far this season has been offensive production. The Skiers broke out the bats against the Longhorns, only to struggle at the plate in the two ensuing losses. Zane said his team also needs to work on making the routine outs in the field instead of letting errors pile up into easy runs for the other team. “It’s so early,” Zane said. “We’ve only had five practices. Mostly, we need to work on making better contact with the ball and eliminating the stupid mistakes in the field.”The Skiers won’t be leading the league in home runs this season, but Zane said he believes his team can find its offensive niche as long as it can put runners on base. With a roster heavy on athleticism, not heavy in the waistline, the emphasis is on consistent singles hitting and smart, aggressive base running.”We have a couple who can hit the ball really hard but we don’t have any big hitters,” Zane said. “We’re not going to rely on that. We’re going to work on getting them from base to base and scoring runs.”

“Almost everyone on the team plays a different sport, so we are athletic,” Magill added. “We just couldn’t make the easy plays last year. That’s what we’re working on this year.”Britt also said she is more prepared to carry the pitching load this season, as opposed to last fall when she was forced to learn on the fly as a first-year starter. The most important thing, she said, is that her teammates back her up, whether it’s making a great catch for an out or cheering her on from the dugout.”(Pitching) is a lot of pressure,” Britt said. “Hopefully, my team stays together and helps me out. I need them to talk to me when I’m out there. I’m not very fast, so I just try to stay accurate. It’s only my second year pitching, so I’m still learning. But I think I am more prepared this year than I was last year.”The same could be said for the Skiers overall. Junior Ashley Ryan – whom Zane calls a “speedster” – is expected to be the leader in the infield at shortstop. Taylor Schlepp and Grace Siegle are also back at second and third base, respectively, as is a troop of capable outfielders – including Tracy Clapper, Nicole Taylor, Nena Sivess and Lizzie Eastly.

Last fall, the highlight of the season was a 12-5 upset win over Norwood in the opening round of the playoffs, which advanced Aspen to districts. Norwood had 10-runned the Skiers in the earlier meeting with the Mavericks, so the playoff loss came as a surprise to the Norwood coaches. “That was a great game,” Zane said. “They took us a little lightly because early in the season they beat us pretty bad, and we came back a much different team. The coaches were caught off guard. They even mentioned that. They said, ‘you really turned this team around.'”Hopefully, Britt said, the Skiers can surprise a number of other teams this fall in the same fashion.”We hope to win a few games,” Britt said. “We don’t have any newcomers. We’re all experienced. We’ve all played together, so we should be more competitive.””Our goal is to get past regionals,” Magill said. “We’re gonna do it.”Nate Peterson can be reached at npeterson@aspentimes.