Basalt’s Hinchliffe a real hit |

Basalt’s Hinchliffe a real hit

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

BASALT Basalt’s Tucker Hinchliffe wanted to make this baseball season count.The senior trained all winter in the gym and in his basement, hitting soft-toss in a makeshift batting cage. With each practice swing, he hoped the lingering effects of a difficult year at the plate in 2006 would fade. “I think I probably matured a little more,” said Hinchliffe, a notable omission on last year’s all-league team. “It was time to get down to business and time to take everything a little more seriously.”If I wanted to play college ball, I knew this was my last chance.”The result? Ask the eternally humble catcher about his season and he’ll say something like this: “It was OK. I don’t think of myself as that great of a player.” Ask Basalt head coach Rick Ryan, and he’ll call Hinchliffe the best player in the program’s history.”He’s so passionate,” Ryan said. “He goes out there and always goes after it. He loves to play the game. Baseball is where he belongs.”

Hinchliffe may doubt his ability, but, after a year spent trying unsuccessfully to slow the catcher, the 3A Western Slope coaches thought differently. They recently named Hinchliffe the league’s player of the year, an honor that secures Hinchliffe a spot on Colorado’s all-state first team.In keeping with his self-depricating persona, Hinchliffe could not believe the news as his eyes scrolled across his name on the list of conference postseason award recipients during dinner with Ryan last week.”It just blew me away,” said Hinchliffe, who was joined on the first team by junior shortstop Connor Rakowski, a two-time selection. Senior Rory Johnson received honorable mention. “I had no idea this was coming for me. It is a huge honor. I didn’t think I was even close to this, but I’m honored that all the coaches had this much respect for me.”Hinchliffe’s statistics were anything but modest. In addition to being the league’s most reliable backstop, he rebounded from a slow start to finish with a .511 batting average. In just 16 games, he had 22 hits, drove in 26 runs, scored 18, stole eight bases and hit five home runs – two in a doubleheader against Gunnison on the last day of the regular season. The “C” on his jersey could well have stood for clutch. Hinchliffe’s three-run home run in the second game of April 8’s doubleheader with Olathe stretched the Longhorns’ lead to 6-0; Basalt went on to beat the Pirates for the first time ever. Roaring Fork starter Kyle Raaflaub was cruising in the third inning of a 1-1 game April 17 when Hinchliffe stepped into the box. Hinchliffe, looking for a first-pitch fastball, drove the ball to the wall in left and slid into third ahead of the throw; he scored on a passed ball during the ensuing at-bat, helping his team seize momentum. The Longhorns completed the two-game season sweep with a 6-0 win.

The team captain’s most impressive at-bat may have been a fly out, Ryan said. Hinchliffe battled Hotchkiss Shawn McRobbie for 16 pitches April 14 before flying to deep center. The Longhorns went on to 10-run the Bulldogs and salvage a split in the doubleheader.”It was incredible. He just wore the pitcher out, and we knew at that point we would win the game” Ryan said. “He got his votes from the Hotchkiss coach with that at-bat.”I didn’t have to sell him very hard. All the coaches knew what I knew. And when I found out we had the best player, I felt like I had won a playoff game.”It’s hardly a coincidence that Basalt, with Hinchliffe providing stellar play and influential leadership, completed one of the greatest turnarounds in Colorado high school baseball history. The Longhorns emerged from the doldrums – they compiled a record of 7-78 from 2001-2005 – into the realm of respectability. They won 10 games in 2006 and earned the school’s first-ever state tournament berth. They finished with an 8-8 mark this season – one win shy of a return to the state tournament.Ryan believes recent successes are just the beginning for Hinchliffe.”He not only has the talent, but he still has so much of an upside,” Ryan added. “He can learn and can be as good at the next level as he was for us.”The reason he does so well is he never thinks he’s doing anything good enough. You can tell him he just hit a ball 400 feet, and he’ll tell you about his strikeout last Thursday. Those kinds of kids will always be successful.”

Hinchliffe went from being off the radar to a target for college programs from Colorado to Arizona. He has yet to decide between Pima Community College in Tucson, and Division II Mesa State College in Grand Junction. Hinchliffe’s dream is to transfer to a Division I program like Arizona State. True to form, he said such an opportunity would be “a long shot.” Still, he’s excited to find out where baseball will take him. “It’s great to see that hard work is finally paying off,” said Hinchliffe, an all-league football selection at quarterback last fall. “I really wish I could still be playing, practicing and looking forward to something that was cut short. But this award has made my season worthwhile, and one I’ll remember.” How valuable was Hinchliffe during his years in black and purple? Perhaps sophomore Andy Delany, slated to take over behind the plate next season, said it best during a recent conversation with Ryan.”It sucks having to be the guy that follows him,” Delany told his coach. Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is

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