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Longhorns bound for state tourney

With his team leading by nine in the bottom of the fifth in Saturday’s district consolation game, Rick Ryan cautioned his players. With a 3A state tournament berth only one run away, Ryan instructed his team to look for base hits and avoid swinging for the fences. J.T. Donovan must not have been listening. The senior, batting second, turned to his father from the on-deck circle and murmured, “This ends with me.” He then launched a walk-off solo home run to give Basalt the 11-1 mercy rule win, but more importantly a place in next week’s state field of 16. The No. 14 Longhorns face No. 3 La Junta (17-3) at 10 a.m. Saturday.”Sometimes when you don’t listen to the coach, it works out,” Ryan joked Sunday. “It was a great senior moment for a kid who has experienced the leanest of times for Basalt baseball.”After his team “didn’t show up,” in a 8-3 loss to Roaring Fork, Ryan was tense as he watched Gunnison battle Olathe. Had the Cowboys managed to pull an upset, Olathe, by virtue of its Western Slope regular-season championship, would still have earned a state tournament bid and eliminated Basalt (10-7 overall, 6-6 Western Slope 3A).While his players traveled back to Paonia for a barbecue, Ryan questioned what type of effort they would deliver.”I had no idea how we would respond,” said Ryan, whose team alternated wins and losses over its final seven contests. “That loss came only a few hours earlier. We usually do OK in those situations.”Try dominant: The Longhorns eliminated all drama just two innings into Game 2. They scored nine runs in their first two at-bats and took a 10-0 lead into the fifth. Basalt compiled 16 hits, while starter Darren Duroux allowed only five. Catcher Tucker Hinchcliffe was 3-for-3 with two doubles and three RBIs.With two outs in the fifth – and his team leading comfortably, 10-0 – Ryan breathed easy as the ball flew to Colin Matheney in center. Matheney, whom Ryan regarded as the league’s best center fielder after Tuesday’s win over Aspen, dropped the ball, allowing a Cowboys runner to score from first. “Uh oh,” Ryan told himself, fearing momentum had shifted. It was the same thing he felt in the first inning against Roaring Fork, when Rams hitter Jake Bowman lined Donovan’s first pitch over the wall for a two-out solo homer. But Donovan, who surrendered eight hits and struck out eight in a Game 1 loss, delivered in his final at-bat of the weekend. And Basalt marches on.”[La Junta] has a history of great baseball. They’ve won several state championships,” Ryan said. “We want to give ourselves due respect, and play our game, win or lose. It’s been a storybook season, and it keeps going.”It’s been a season for the record books. Basalt, which was 5-57 from 2002-05, has won a school-best 10 games. The Longhorns recorded the program’s first wins against Hotchkiss, Roaring Fork and Gunnison.Ryan, too, is entering uncharted territory. Next week he will coach in his first state tournament. He came close with Aspen in 2000 but lost in the district consolation game. With Ryan at the helm, the Longhorns proved they belonged among the Western Slope’s elite. The coach hopes that trend continues next weekend.”My job is to try and convince these guys we can win. We don’t want to get caught looking around like we don’t belong,” Ryan said. “In two weeks, after all is done, we’ll look back and say, ‘Wow. Look what we did.’ But right now, we’re caught up in it.”You have to take it all in. you never know if you’ll get there again.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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