Longhorns bats wake up in time to salvage split with Olathe
EL JEBEL Basalt baseball coach Rick Ryan called Olathe the 3A Western Slope’s measuring stick. He said his team’s doubleheader Saturday with the defending league champions would give the Longhorns the opportunity to determine where they fit into the conference picture.
Ryan has to like how his team matches up going forward. Resilient Basalt shook off an 8-2 opening game loss in which it surrendered six unearned runs, jumped out to an 8-0 lead in Game 2 and held on for the 8-5 victory – its first ever against the Pirates. “This was an opportunity to find out if we belong,” Ryan said Sunday. “If we play well, we can beat anybody. I figured if we could jump out early on them, we could pull it off.Basalt (3-2 overall, 2-1 conference) did just that. The first five batters to face Pirates starter Brandon Handke reached base – three scored. Catcher Tucker Hinchliffe and starter Rory Johnson each had RBI singles and Cory Ostrander, despite hitting into a double play, drove in Hinchliffe.
Hinchliffe, who has struggled at the plate early this season, erased seven games worth of frustration in one pitch in the second. With two outs and two runners on base, Handke decided to challenge Hinchliffe with a fastball; Hinchliffe didn’t miss. He drilled the offering over the left field wall to put the Longhorns ahead, 6-0, and chase Handke from the game.”The problem with Tucker is that his hands are just too fast, and he was swinging at everything so quickly and over-swinging,” Ryan said. “We worked on it in practice.”Obviously, we’re a much better team when Tucker is hitting.”
Basalt extended its lead in the fourth when Johnson drew a bases-loaded walk and Colin Matheney hit an RBI single into the hole at shortstop. Still, they could not pull away.Johnson walked the first three batters he faced to open the fifth, and Olathe made the Longhorns pay. Pirates leadoff hitter Jamie Goza drove in two with a single to left, Billy Harrison hit a sacrifice fly and Handke and Jesus Suarez followed with RBI singles to cut the lead to three. Walks and defensive miscues fueled a big inning that victimized the Longhorns in Game 1. After loading the bases with one out in a 2-2 game in the fourth, a Pirates batter grounded to Ryan Zubizarreta at third base; the senior rushed his throw to the plate that bounced off the ground and out of Hinchliffe’s reach. Six runners scored in the inning and Olathe, despite recording just three hits off Connor Rakowski and Zack Schultz, pulled away.Despite Johnson’s struggles – he labored during a 41-pitch fifth – Ryan said he never entertained thoughts of pulling his staff ace. Johnson had been cruising during the first four innings; he threw 51 pitches and allowed only one runner to reach second base.”Rory has to learn to get through those tough spots if we’re going to do anything this year,” Ryan said.
The decision proved to be prudent. Johnson escaped the fifth, then settled down. After hitting Doug Wilson to open the six, he induced three consecutive flyouts. Johnson, who threw 116 pitches, worked around a one-out single in the seventh to secure the win.”A team like Olathe is always going to make a run,” said Ryan, whose team plays rival Aspen on Tuesday. “We hung in there. We have the ability to be very good and be in the hunt in this league.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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