Skiers’ late-inning heroics sink Basalt | AspenTimes.com
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Skiers’ late-inning heroics sink Basalt

Jon MaletzAspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times
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EL JEBEL Basalt baseball coach Rick Ryan slowly ambled to the mound to talk with pitcher Rory Johnson. The Longhorns’ 9-4 lead entering the top of the seventh against rival Aspen had been reduced to two, and the tying run stood on first. The decision was made to intentionally walk Skiers senior Andy Conarroe, who had yet to be retired in four previous plate appearances, then go after freshman No. 9 hitter Anderson Cole. “I’d rather have a freshman at the plate than Conarroe,” Ryan said. “I used to coach Andy. I knew he would’ve put the ball in play.”The freshman made Ryan regret his choice. Anderson lined a two-run single to right field to tie the game. The Skiers (5-6 overall, 3-4 3A Western Slope) tacked on four more runs in the eighth and held on for the 13-10 victory – a measure of vengeance after the Longhorns swept all three meetings last season.”The kids are a year older and a year wiser, and they knew it wasn’t over,” Aspen coach Matt Lilleberg said. Aspen’s Nicky Anastas led off the seventh with a grounder that slid under Johnson’s glove; shortstop Connor Rakowski scooped the ball and fired an errant throw to first, allowing Anastas to take second. Matt Beirne followed with a run-scoring double to right center, then Jeff LaGrua tripled to the wall in deep right; he scored when a throw from the outfield sailed out of play. Johnson, who threw 116 pitches Saturday in a complete game win over Olathe, was visibly laboring. (Basalt’s planned starter was deemed academically ineligible earlier Tuesday). Still, after Stephen Buzbee reached on an error, Johnson started a 1-6-3 double play to clear the bases.

The final out proved elusive, however. Taylor Huske notched his third hit of the game with a double to left, then Zach Maraziti drew a walk. Ryan sprang from the dugout.

“I could see that he really wasn’t bending and was keeping everything up,” said Ryan, a former Aspen coach. “I was going to go to Connor, but I let him talk me out of it. That was my fault.”That was the most unsafe 9-4 lead I’ve ever had in my life. I could feel it starting to slip away.”Basalt’s lead, which it held ever since Colin Matheney’s RBI single in the first, was erased by Anderson soon thereafter. And, after walking Anastas, Johnson was chased from the game.Still, the Longhorns (3-3, 2-2) were well positioned to walk away winners after Ryan Zubizarreta drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the seventh. Anastas quelled that optimism during the ensuing at-bat when he raced into right field to make a difficult catch, then fired to first to catch Zubizarreta off base. The Skiers turned three double plays in the game.”That was a huge play and a great catch,” Ryan said. “We were going for one run to win it and when things like that happen, there’s really nothing you can do.”

LaGrua led off the eighth with his second straight triple, and Huske followed with a run-scoring single. Basalt decided to pitch to Conarroe – the sixth hitter in the inning – and he came up with his third hit and third RBI of the day. Maraziti scored on an error and Anastas added a RBI single down the line in left to give Aspen a four-run cushion. “We just knew it was time to come together and find some hits,” Conarroe said. “We made the most of each at-bat. I’ve been thinking about this game all year and to come from behind to win is unbelievable.”Longhorns infielder Cory Ostrander singled home a run with two outs in the eighth to cut Aspen’s lead to 13-10. LaGrua relieved Beirne and struck out Travis D’Anna on three straight fastballs to seal the win. “Even when we were ahead, I didn’t think we had enough runs to pull it out,” Ryan said. “We left the bases loaded a couple times. We couldn’t get the big hit. It’s frustrating.”

The Longhorns stranded nine runners in the game. They loaded the bases with one out during a three-run fourth before Ostrander hit a sharp line drive right to Huske, who touched the bag to complete a double play.”I kept telling my kids that they had to meet [Aspen’s] emotion,” Ryan said. “They played with more emotion, and things snowballed.”Eight batters had at least one hit for the Skiers, who rebounded from a weekend in Gunnison where they were outscored, 36-17, in two losses. “We needed this one,” Lilleberg said. “They threw everything they had at us, and we handled it.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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