Aspen baseball team nearing playoff berth |

Aspen baseball team nearing playoff berth

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Everything was stacked against the Aspen baseball team.

After an 11-day layoff, much of the squad reconvened for the first time Monday morning at 5 when they boarded a bus bound for Gunnison to play a doubleheader with the 3A Western Slope-leading Cowboys.

“I really didn’t know what was going to happen,” Skiers head coach Nate Grinzinger admitted Wednesday. “Their were extra challenges going on. I told them, ‘I think this will be the toughest day of the season, so let’s see how you handle the adversity.'”

That adversity was magnified after a 13-3, mercy-rule loss in Game 1 in which the Skiers committed five errors and three costly mental gaffes. With an opportunity to bolster its playoff resume still obtainable, Aspen turned to Anderson Cole in the second game. He came through, striking out 10 and surrendering just four hits in a complete-effort as the Skiers cruised to the 13-4 win, improving to 9-5 in league play.

Now, all that stands between Aspen and a postseason berth are matchups with valley rivals Basalt today and Roaring Fork on Monday. Five Slope teams qualify for the state tournament.

“Five teams get to go, and we’re in between fourth and fifth. … It’s possible to lose out and still go to the playoffs, but we’re just focusing on getting better,” Grinzinger said. “We were making the move to take two [in Gunnison]. We wanted to use Cole as a weapon, potentially have him close Game 1 and start Game 2. … We were just hoping the offense would get hot [in the first game] and we could put him in during the fourth or fifth.”

That opportunity never came.

Taylor Mayer pitched five innings, surrendering six earned runs, and was victimized by porous defense. The offense didn’t provide much help either; Zach Maraziti was picked off at third base with the bases loaded and Taylor Mayer and Quinn Morehead ” the top two batters in the lineup ” both swung at third strikes well above their eyes with a runner in scoring position.

Aspen’s first three hitters were a combined 0-for-8 in the game. The bottom three in the order had three hits ” Daniel Munger’s double, and singles from Christian de la Cruz and Lamont Gross. Chris Dreyer also pitched in with two hits.

The Skiers, who average nearly eight runs per game, could muster just three.

“I think the time off hurt us most with our eye at the plate,” Grinzinger said. “We were swinging at balls and letting strikes go. … But, you know, it was 5-3 until the fourth or fifth inning. The fact that we were still in the game with so many mistakes, I was pretty happy with.

“Really, what it came down to was us giving it away. A team like Gunnison eventually gets the best of you when you keep giving them breaks like that.”

Anderson provided few breaks for the Cowboys in the second game. The junior, who is 6-0 with a save this season, kept high-powered Gunnison at bay for much of the game, and contributed with two runs scored and a dazzling defensive play. Cole snared a line-drive come-backer as he fell to the dirt, then alertly turned and fired on to first to complete a double play. His father, Steve, captured the footage and subsequently posted it on YouTube.

“Gunnison really wasn’t trying to pull the ball and was sitting back at the plate,” Grinzinger said. “We started establishing the inside part of the plate, and that really changed the game.”

While the Cowboys scuffled at the plate, the Skiers reverted to form. Mayer had two hits and two RBIs, and Morehead drove in four ” including three on a bases-clearing double in the fourth, when Aspen was clinging to a 5-3 lead.

Maraziti and Mike Willsky had RBIs, and Walker Moriarty singled.

“There were a lot of things riding against us,” Grinzinger said, “… and we completely [handled them.]”

The challenges did not end in Gunnison, however. Next comes a tussle with a Longhorns squad that, despite not being a factor in the postseason race, is sure to provide a stiff test today, Grinzinger said. Basalt did just that the last time these two teams met April 7, overcoming an early deficit to knot the game at seven and forcing the Skiers to turn to Cole to quell the threat. Aspen went on to win 14-7, stretching its league-leading record at that point to 7-1. Had it not been for two forfeits to Hotchkiss (the Skiers could not field a team because of Spring Break) Aspen might still be contending for a Slope crown.

Still, both the Skiers and ‘Horns have much to play for today. Aspen is looking to complete an improbable turnaround, making the playoffs one year after struggling through a tumultuous 2008 season ” “I think we had two wins, maybe three. I don’t even remember, I kind of blanked it out of my memory,” Grinzinger said.

Basalt is looking to derail its rival’s postseason chances.

“What we’ve been telling the kids is that we think this will be one of our more dangerous games because you’ve got a team in Basalt that had a tough year and has nothing to lose,” Grinzinger said. “Playing a high school team with nothing to lose, sometimes they play their best ball all season and add on the rivalry and they’re going to want it. There’s less fear of failure with a team like Basalt. … They’re dangerous.”

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