Controversial call fuels Olathe sweep | AspenTimes.com
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Controversial call fuels Olathe sweep

Jon MaletzAspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times
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EL JEBEL Aspen and reliever Matt Beirne were one pitch away from escaping the seventh inning with a tie. That next pitch and the subsequent ruling, one with potential season-changing implications, will be the subject of debate in the days to come. Beirne delivered a 3-2 fastball that struck Olathe catcher Curtis Noel in the chest. While it was not clear whether Noel had swung at the pitch or was trying to avoid being hit, one umpire called Noel out. After huddling, the umpires awarded Noel first base. Both coaches walked to the middle of the diamond to plead their cases; Skiers coach Matt Lilleberg announced his intention to play the rest of the game under protest. Ultimately, the umpires, who later acknowledged they were not confident enough to make a final ruling, decided to go with a do-over. With runners on first and second, Noel took advantage of his second chance. He lined a fastball over the head of Stephen Buzbee in center to drive in the game-winning runs in an 8-6 victory that completed a doubleheader sweep for the Pirates.A decision on the play and whether the final outcome will stand is in the hands of the Colorado High School Activities Association. Aspen might have a difficult time pleading its case, however, because it did ultimately agree to the do-over.”I thought the ruling was strike three, and that’s it,” Beirne said. “They should have to drive back down here and play that last inning again.

“We need this game. We need that play to be called back. We need the second chance.”The state’s revised postseason format – eliminating district tournaments, and the top four teams in the final standings make the state tournament – makes every league game crucial.”The umpires made the wrong call,” said Lilleberg, whose Skiers sit near the bottom of the Slope standings. “But we shouldn’t have put ourselves in that situation anyway.”Aspen (4-7 overall, 3-6 3A Western Slope omitting Thursday’s second game), which scored nine runs in its final two at-bats Tuesday to sink rival Basalt, squandered a 6-0 lead in Game 2. Aspen starter Jeff LaGrua scattered six hits through five innings but managed to come away unscathed; he was not so lucky in the sixth, when the Pirates tied the game with six runs and four hits. LaGrua walked two and hit a batter; all three scored. Shane Suppes hit a run-scoring double to deep center and Jake Prosser had an RBI single. Brandon Handke delivered the big blow – he drove a ball into the gap in left center to clear the bases. The ball rolled under Buzbee’s glove.

Handke’s hit chased LaGrua from the game. Five of the six runs Olathe scored in the inning came with two outs.”They got some momentum, and they went with it,” Lilleberg said. “They turned on the bats and got some good hits.”The Skiers, who left the bases loaded in each of the first two innings, scored twice in the third on Taylor Huske’s RBI triple and Zack Maraziti’s run-scoring single. They padded their lead with four more runs in the fourth on Buzbee’s RBI single, Huske’s bases-loaded walk and fielder’s choices by Maraziti and Andy Conarroe. The lead could have been greater – Anderson Cole popped up his bunt on an attempted squeeze, which led to an inning-ending double play.Aspen also blew an opportunity in the fifth. With two outs, runners on first and second, and Dillon Morehead at the plate, Lilleberg called for the steal; LaGrua was thrown out at third.”That one’s on me, and I told the guys ‘That’s was my mistake, pick me up,'” Lilleberg said. “If we do lose this one, it’ll be tough. We played well enough to win.”

Beirne, who threw more than 100 pitches during a relief stint Tuesday against the Longhorns, relieved LaGrua and induced a lineout to first to end the sixth. He started strong in the seventh after fielding a groundball off Suppes, then striking out Jesus Suarez.The Pirates put together yet one more two-out rally. Leadoff hitter Jamie Goza and Prosser hit back-to-back singles. Noel followed with the controversial at-bat that changed the game.Olathe’s Billy Harrison, who pitched seven strong in the Pirates’ Game 1 victory, shut down the Skiers in the seventh. After Anastas grounded out to third, Harrison struck out Beirne, who homered in Game 1, and LaGrua.”Granted, we did do a lot to lose that game, but that call was an emotional factor,” Beirne said. “It’s unfortunate. We’ll have to wait and see what the league does, but hopefully they rule in our favor.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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