Young ‘Horns have big dreams | AspenTimes.com

Young ‘Horns have big dreams

Jon Maletz

Mark Fox/The Aspen TImes

Now is the time to find out how good a job Basalt head softball coach Bruce Matherly has done the past few years.One year after the departure of six starting seniors who all contributed in the Longhorns’ run to the 3A state tournament, the youth movement has started in Basalt. Eight freshmen, the first wave of athletes Matherly coached during summer ball since they were 8-9 years old, are on the current roster. And many are expected to see significant playing time.While the team may be lean on experience, expectations for the Longhorns remain as ambitious as ever. “I want us to be better than we were last year, and I think that’s a reasonable goal,” Matherly said Wednesday. “We’ll find out if I taught these young players anything over the past few years.” There are considerable holes to fill and production to replace. Basalt lost three-fourths of its starting infield as well as no. 1 starter Darbi Scherer, plus the team’s left and center fielders. Scherer, who is currently attempting to walk on at Pacific University in California, was 4-2 in 2005 with 55 strikeouts; she also batted over .400. Left fielder Allison Brumet hit .396 and stole 11 bases. Both were all-league first team selections.

While more than half the members of the team are underclassmen, the Longhorns that are returning for their senior season form a strong nucleus. Katy Mulcahy, an all-conference catcher who helped anchor the pitching staff and who caught 12 runners stealing last season, has emerged as a team leader.”We expect Katy to be solid, and we’ll need her to be,” Matherly said.Matherly is expecting big things from his lone returning starter on the infield, shortstop Jennifer Barton. The all-league honorable mention selection led the Longhorns in average (.529) and on-base percentage (.750) in 2005. The team’s lofty goals may rest on the right arm of pitcher Lisa Warnecke. Warnecke, Basalt’s No. 2 starter last year, will lead a two-person staff that includes freshman Alexa Aitken. During her first innings of work Saturday, Warnecke struck out four and walked four in a rain-shortened game against Cedaredge.”There’s a little bit [of pressure replacing Scherer], but I think our pitching has a chance to be really good,” Warnecke said. “We have a strong team, and there are a lot of good freshmen that are going to help us out.”The team’s first-year players saw considerable time Saturday in an 18-12 victory over Aspen. While things didn’t start out well for Aitken on the mound – she opened her first varsity appearance by walking three straight batters and later surrendered a run on a wild pitch – she controlled her nerves and struck out nine in a complete game effort. The coach expects both Aitken and Warnecke to see time on the mound during Basalt’s early nonconference games.

Freshman Abby King, who hit leadoff for Basalt Saturday, took the majority of the reps at second base Wednesday. Freshman Mackenze Buck may share time at first base with junior standout Emily Peetz. Freshman Monique Rodriguez will serve as Mulcahy’s backup and should see time in the infield.Success by Longhorns freshmen is nothing knew. Current sophomore Carmel Mulcahy broke up a bid for a perfect game with a well-executed bunt in Basalt’s season-ending loss to Holy Family.”With all our losses, it’s a good thing we had eight freshmen come out,” Matherly said. “We’ll soon find out if we are rebuilding, reloading, or are somewhere in between.”Matherly is optimistic. He expects this year’s Longhorns to be better in nearly every facet of the game. The initial returns look good. Basalt recorded 14 hits against rival Aspen. They will, however, need to shore up their defense and pitching.

“We are inexperienced, but if we can make the routine plays routinely, that’ll make us pretty solid,” he said. “Our pitchers need to be more consistent. If there’s a walk in high school softball, before you know it that runner’s on third. That run ends up scoring nine out of 10 times.” Improving on a season in which it finished second in the Western Slope with a 6-3 league record is a tall order for Basalt. The Longhorns will have the opportunity to gauge how far they’ve come and how much they must improve when they play 4A schools Palisade, Cortez and Durango at the Peach Fuzz tournament on Friday and Saturday. League play begins Tuesday in Rifle. “This weekend will give us a chance to see what good softball really looks like,” Matherly said. “The level of competition will be ramped up, and that’s why we build a tough schedule. This will give us a good indication where we are.”Mulcahy hopes that, by season’s end, the Longhorns are the top team in the Western Slope.”Our goal is always to win league, and go beyond,” Mulcahy said. “It’ll come down to whether everybody wants to do it. We know what we need to do.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com