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Closing the gap

Throughout the entire 2006 season, Basalt coach Rick Ryan said his team was competing for respect, to close the gap between perception – forged during years with little success – and reality.And the result? The rest of the conference took notice. Basalt (10-8 overall, 6-6 Western Slope), which won just one game last season, was rewarded with four first-team all-conference selections. Longhorns seniors Darren Duroux and Colin Matheney, sophomore Connor Rakowski and junior Rory Johnson were among 18 players the league’s coaches selected on April 30.Aspen (6-13, 4-8) had a trio of juniors earn recognition: Jeff LaGrua and Stephen Buzbee garnered first-team honors; Matt Beirne received honorable mention.”There was this perception of who we were, and it was kind of neat that the rest of the league looked at us as a good team,” Ryan said. ‘These kids know they’re good, and that this wasn’t about luck or anything.”Duroux, Basalt’s lone representative on 2005’s first team, batted .488 and drove in 16 runs. His power numbers were down this year compared to last – he went from four home runs to one – but Duroux picked the ideal spot for his lone homer of the year; His two-run shot on May 2 against Aspen tied the game and propelled the Longhorns to a thrilling victory.The 6-foot-5 first baseman, Basalt’s No. 1 starter, was so impressive that the conference coaches included him on the list of five nominees for all-state consideration. Voting for all-state will follow the conclusion of the state tournaments.”When you’re the other team, Darren is a factor, no matter who you are,” Ryan said. “You have to pitch differently.”Fellow senior Matheney hit .416 and stole 10 bases. It was his defense in center, however, that attracted the most attention – and praise. Matheney preserved Basalt’s 8-7 win over the Skiers in the first round of districts when he caught a line drive, then fired a perfect strike to catcher Tucker Hinchcliffe to cut down the potential tying run.”Fieldingwise, I’ve coaches some good ones, but Colin is the best,” Ryan said. “His defense won games for us, and he didn’t give himself enough credit for his hitting.”Rakowski, who batted leadoff for the majority of the season, led the team with his .580 average and 12 stolen bases. In addition, he anchored the Longhorns defense at shortstop. “He was the guy who was on all the time. You can’t ask for anything more from a leadoff guy,” Ryan said.Johnson, who made the all-league team as one of two utility players, played a key role for the Longhorns on the mound, at first and in the outfield. At the plate, he batted .515 and led the team with 19 RBIs.For his efforts in helping orchestrate the program’s surprising turnaround, Ryan finished second to league champion Olathe’s Joe Archuleta. Aspen head coach Matt Lilleberg did not return calls seeking comment.”The players took to me, that’s all I can say,” Ryan said. “All the credit goes to Bruce [Matherly]. I told him no, I swear, 10 times. He kept telling we this would be a perfect fit, and he was right on the money.”Things happen for a reason. This has been a blessed season in every way.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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