Basalt keeps postseason hopes afloat
EL JEBEL Roaring Fork starter Kyle Raaflaub was cruising. After a trying first inning in which he surrendered one run and faced six batters, Raaflaub didn’t waver. He struck out the side in the second inning, then induced a fly ball to second and a strikeout to open the third.Longhorns catcher Tucker Hinchliffe stepped into the box.”There were two outs, and I knew we needed to get something going,” said Hinchliffe, who singled in the first but was stranded. “I was looking for a first-pitch fastball. He threw it, and I was ready.”
Hinchliffe lined the pitch deep into left field. As he rounded second, head coach Rick Ryan waved him on to third; he slid in ahead of third baseman Dietrich Minor’s tag. Hinchliffe scored during the ensuing at-bat on a passed ball, putting Basalt ahead, 2-1.The Longhorns seized the momentum, capitalized on multiple Rams miscues and, on the strength of solid pitching from Rory Johnson and Bryan Mason, pulled out the 6-2 victory.Basalt (5-4 overall, 4-3 3A Western Slope), currently fifth in the conference standings, topped Raaflaub and Roaring Fork, 4-2, on April 3.”We’re keeping our [postseason] hopes alive,” Ryan said. “We knew we had to keep this low-scoring if we had any chance. Every run was important.”Longhorns centerfielder Colin Matheney executed a perfect squeeze in the bottom of the first to bring home Mason with the game’s first run. Hinchliffe, who had three of Basalt’s five hits off Raaflaub, single-handedly helped the Longhorns regain the lead in the third.
Raaflaub, who struck out 14 Longhorns earlier this month, sat down nine Tuesday. He was, however, helpless in the fifth as he watched his young defense commit three errors, yielding four runs.”We were right in this game, and it was the little things that continued to kill us,” Roaring Fork head coach Steve Kinney said. “Kyle pitched great – he always does. I feel for him.”Mason flailed unsuccessfully at a two-strike Raaflaub curve ball as it hit the dirt, but, after the ball slid past catcher Jake Kinney, Mason sprinted toward first. Kinney’s throw pulled Trevor Hunt off the bag, allowing Mason to reach. The first four batters in the inning reached – all of them scored. Hinchliffe fought off a curveball for a single over the head of shortstop Oscar Beltran, then Johnson singled home Mason. Matheney reached on Michael Black’s error at second; Tyler Hunt misplayed the ball as it rolled into center, and both Hinchliffe and Johnson scored. Two batters later, Travis D’Anna executed the squeeze and Matheney scored to put the Longhorns ahead, 6-2.”We’re always going to be aggressive on the bases,” Ryan said. “If you bobble the ball for one second, we’re going to try and score.”
After taking the lead, Ryan decided to pull laboring starter Johnson. Johnson, who picked up a win Saturday against Hotchkiss, wasn’t sure he’d be healthy enough to pitch after Monday’s practice, he said. He gutted it out for five innings Tuesday, surrendering two runs on three hits, to improve to 5-0. He struck out five.”I wasn’t scheduled to go again until next week, but I didn’t feel too bad out there,” Johnson said. “I was a little sore. I’ve thrown way too many innings in the past week, but we needed a win. I was happy to see Bryan come in and mow them down.”Mason, who once threw 19 of his 21 pitches for strikes in a relief appearance against Battle Mountain last season, retired six of the seven batters he faced to seal the win. He induced a flyout and two groundouts in the sixth, then worked around a single with three strikeouts in the seventh.”Having these two wins back-to-back is a good jump-start,” Hinchliffe said. “This was a huge win and should set the tone for the remainder of the season.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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