Rascon strikes out 13, Roaring Fork tops Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Rascon strikes out 13, Roaring Fork tops Aspen

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jim Ryan/Special to The Aspen TimesRoaring Fork's Johnny Nieslanik slides safely back into first base as Aspen's Walker Moriarty awaits the throw Monday in El Jebel.

EL JEBEL – Roaring Fork’s Alex Rascon pitched sparingly in Saturday’s doubleheader because of arm soreness.

Two days later, Aspen was feeling the pain.

Rascon, who relieved Johnny Nieslanik in the second, scattered two hits and struck out 13 in six dominant innings in Monday’s regular-season finale.

The junior also pitched in at the plate, driving in two with a sharp single to left during a four-run seventh to lead the Rams to a 7-2 victory over a depleted Skiers squad.

Despite the loss, Aspen (8-11 overall, 8-8 3A Western Slope) secured the league’s fifth and final postseason berth by virtue of Gunnison’s (9-9, 7-9) 18-12 loss to Cedaredge.

Roaring Fork (13-6, 10-6) clinched fourth place with Saturday’s split with Hotchkiss.

“I honestly thought Johnny would finish it out, but he had a little arm problem,” Rascon said. “I was ready to go out and get a win for these guys. We need to go into the playoffs hot.”

Nieslanik, who also pitched Saturday, did not display his typical velocity or biting breaking ball during the first inning, when the Skiers touched him for two runs – both scored on Walker Moriarty’s single to center.

“I could tell something was wrong,” Rams head coach Tim Nieslanik said. “Then he told me his arm was hurting.”

Rascon took the mound in the second and promptly struck out the side.

He was just getting warmed up.

He struck out two or more batters in each of the final four innings and allowed just one runner past first base; Moriarty reached on an infield single and stole second in the fourth, but he was later caught stealing to end the frame.

The Skiers’ offense was hindered by the absence of four starters, who were out of the lineup for disciplinary and academic reasons.

“It’s overwhelming when you don’t have four starters in the last game that decides if you go to the playoffs,” Aspen head coach Nate Grinzinger said. “I found out [right before the game].

“Let’s tip our caps to [Rascon]. He always comes in and has good command, throws strikes and gets ahead of batters.”

Anderson Cole, who allowed no runs in nine-plus innings in the Skiers’ 10-inning win over Roaring Fork on May 4, matched Rascon before running into trouble in the third. Rams lead-off hitter Oscar Beltran drove in one with a double to the gap in left-center, and later scored on a botched relay throw to square the game. Beltran had three hits.

Roaring Fork took the lead for good in the top of the fourth after another Aspen error; Johnny Nieslanik got caught in a pickle between second and third, but scored when a throw bounced out of play.

Cole scattered six hits and struck out five in six innings. The Rams jumped all over reliever Leif Mosher in the seventh.

Third-baseman Clay Gross – who likely saved a run in the sixth when he dove to his right to glove a sharp grounder, then threw to first for the out – tripled to right to score Beltran. Trenton Reeds followed with an RBI single, then Rascon lined a ball to left to drive in two and stretch the lead to five.

Rascon struck out two and induced a weak groundout to first base in the bottom of the seventh.

“We felt like we did give them that game last week. We wanted to make sure we were playing good baseball going into the postseason,” Tim Nieslanik said. “This was a great team effort.”