Aspen wins opener at state baseball tourney
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” The Aspen baseball team made its first postseason appearance in more than a decade Saturday. Anderson Cole made sure the young Skiers stuck around for a while.
The junior went seven strong in 27th-seeded Aspen’s district opener against sixth-seeded Denver Lutheran, surrendering just two runs and two hits. The Skiers scored twice in the first and second innings and held on for a surprise 4-2 win.
Their luck ran out in Game 2, however. Valley center fielder Brandon Frank hit two triples and the second of the 11th-seeded Vikings’ two grand slams to seal a 17-7 mercy-rule win.
“Putting it all in perspective, I love where we went with such a young team,” Aspen head coach Nate Grinzinger said Sunday. “I really thought we could take two. We planned to take two. We certainly planned on taking one.”
They did just that, jumping on Denver Lutheran early to seize control of Game 1. Taylor Mayer drew a leadoff walk in the first and Quinn Morehead followed with a single off Lights starter Patrick Stehler, an eight-game winner during the regular season. With two runners in scoring position, Zach Maraziti and Chris Dreher hit consecutive sacrifice flies.
“We came out loud and aggressive,” Grinzinger said. “They thought they were going to walk all over us. … You couldn’t have written that first inning any better.”
Mayer singled in the third and came around to score on a Maraziti single. Cole gave himself some insurance with a run-scoring single to stretch the lead to four.
Aspen’s ace needed little help. After walking the leadoff man in the first, Cole induced a 6-4-3 double play to erase the threat. He walked the first man he faced in the second but bounced back with three straight strikeouts.
Cole’s only struggles came in the fourth, when he surrendered a single and then a two-run home run to Jared Hock, who entered the game batting .508. Cole had allowed just two earned runs in his previous 48 innings pitched.
“Cole didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled and pretty much took them out of the [game],” Grinzinger said. “He closed the door on them.”
Cole walked three en route to picking up his eighth victory. Walker Moriarty and Mayer chipped in with two hits each.
Aspen’s offense continued to produce in the second game, when Maraziti doubled home Morehead to push the Skiers (12-9) ahead in the first. Maraziti, the lone senior in the lineup, went 4-for-5 and drove in three on the day.
The lead didn’t last long, however.
Valley (16-5) strung together four straight hits to open the bottom of the first and pushed across four in the frame. After going scoreless against Aspen starter Mayer in the second, the Vikings broke the game open in the third. Mayer surrendered two walks, was victimized by three errors and surrendered a grand slam to Joe VanHoesen. Valley plated seven in the inning to take a 10-run lead.
“They’re a serious-hitting ball club. They have a lot of kids at [6-foot-4],” Grinzinger said. “We just ran into an older, more experienced team.
“They were pulling balls 50 feet foul [in the first game against Jefferson Academy], so we were pretty set in our game plan to work the outside corner and get them to chase pitches. They were hitting balls when they were falling all over the plate. You have to give them credit for what they did.”
Cole lined a bases-loaded triple to left and Daniel Munger and Dreher each had run-scoring singles during a five-run fifth as the Skiers pulled to within four at 11-7. But their pitchers could do little to slow Valley ” Frank in particular.
The senior, who was 4-for-4 with six RBIs in the game, dealt the decisive blow in the fifth. He tagged reliever Cole for a grand slam over the 285-foot right-field fence to fuel a five-run inning that sealed the win.
“Cole beat him, and he popped up. Quinn was waiting at the fence for like two seconds, but the ball cleared it …” Grinzinger said. “[Frank] is as legit as it gets. … Their offense is tough to stop. Some team is going to need a serious thrower to take them down.”
The Vikings are heading to Greeley later this week to take part in the state tournament’s double-elimination round. Aspen is left to ponder the future.
“Give these kids a lot of credit for how young they are and how this season went,” Grinzinger said. “I was glad to have these guys get a taste of the playoffs for the first time. … We’ve really got something good going for us. I love this team. It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had coaching baseball.”
David Stapleton is the development officer for the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club. A product of the club, AVSC sat down with Stapleton for a Q&A session in this week’s Clubhouse Chronicles.