Basalt softball has high hopes for 2010

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times

BASALT – If the Basalt Longhorns are to clinch a third consecutive 3A Western Slope softball title, they will have to do so without a pair of familiar faces.

Alexa Aitken and Abby King helped turn a fledgling program into a conference power during their four years in purple and black. Now, a talented group of upperclassmen will look to keep the momentum going.

“Those will be two very tough spots to fill,” head coach Bruce Matherly admitted last week. “We still have plenty of talent here, though.”

Aitken, a 2008 first-team All-State selection, was on the mound for 13 of the Longhorns’ school-record 14 wins last fall, when she compiled a 3.81 ERA. In addition, she led all of 3A with 21 stolen bases, hit .519 and drove in 16 runs.

King was no slouch either. The sure-handed second baseman finished with a .510 average and 15 RBI.

Both girls – two of five Basalt players to garner first-team All-Conference recognition in 2009 – were selected to participate in November’s Colorado Coaches of Girls Sports All-State Softball Game in Westminster.

Now, the Longhorns’ ultimate success rests in the capable hands of seniors Jamie Matherly, Kenzie Kuhn, Jessie Anderson and Lane Calabro.

Basalt is hoping Matherly reverts to the 2008 form that secured her a spot on the state’s first team. The shortstop led all of 3A with a .689 batting average that season.

Last year, her numbers were more modest – a .348 average, 18 RBI and 11 steals.

Matherly will be one of at least three Longhorns expected to log innings on the mound, joining No. 1 starter Katie King, a junior, and freshman Gavin Lacroix.

Kuhn, by most accounts the league’s top catcher, committed just three errors in 19 games in 2009. She also settled into the cleanup spot in the batting order, hitting .353 and driving in a team-high 20 runs.

Anderson (first base) and Calabro (third) helped sure up the corners of Basalt’s infield last fall. In addition, both hit .383 or better and were two of six Longhorns to drive in 15 or more runs.

Coach Matherly is also expecting contributions from speedster Connor Adams, who will likely hit lead-off, sophomore Shelley Briscoe and incoming freshman Maddie Nieslanik, who goes to school at Roaring Fork. (Adams and Kuhn are students at Glenwood Springs High School.)

He is also hoping that senior Kira Selucky returns; the outfielder tore her ACL skiing and has not yet been cleared to play.

“We got down to the state tournament and she made some outstanding plays for us,” Bruce Matherly said. “We haven’t seen her, but we’re hoping we get her back soon.”

The Longhorns will need all the help they can get, because Matherly has put together a schedule he calls the program’s toughest ever. Basalt opens the season in today’s La Junta Invitational tournament with games against La Junta, Akron and Eaton.

Next week, they’ll travel to the Peach Fuzz Invitational in Grand Junction to take on 4As Delta, Prairie View and Durango. After a make-up game Sept. 13 with Palisade, Basalt opens league play Friday, Sept. 17 against Slope newcomer Rifle, which is playing its first season at 3A after moving down one classification.

Matherly, whose squad faced stiff competition this summer in Grand Junction, hopes his girls will be ready.

“Every year we try to amp it up [with scheduling]. Last year, we figured it would make or break us – we didn’t know how they would respond. They stepped up and played better, and we’re hoping to do the same this year,” he added. “I think we’ve still got some really good players. We just have to guard against being complacent. If we get complacent, we’re in trouble. We’ll wind up getting thumped for sure.

“If we stay focused and continue to work hard and improve, I think we’ll do fairly well.”