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Stiff challenge awaits Aspen baseball

Jon MaletzThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy Lena Nicholson Aspen head baseball coach Nate Grinzinger piles on top of his players after Mondays win over Roaring Fork in Carbondale.
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ASPEN The turnaround is complete. Well, not quite yet.After winning just a handful of games in 2008, the Aspen baseball team went 11-8 this spring and locked up fifth place in the highly competitive 3A Western Slope. For their efforts, the Skiers secured the programs first postseason berth in more than a decade. Aspen, the 27th seed in the states 32-team district tournament field that was announced Wednesday, will square off with sixth-seeded Denver Lutheran at 10 a.m. on Saturday in Denver. Should they advance, the Skiers will face the winner of No. 11 Valley and No. 22 Jefferson Academy later Saturday. Defending champion Eaton (18-0) garnered the top overall seed.The accomplishment is noteworthy, Aspen head coach Nate Grinzinger said Wednesday night. Dont expect his Skiers to be content with making it this far, however.Were really not just sitting here excited to be in the playoffs, the coach added. We are trying to go in and win two games. I think we can.Aspen is riding a three-game win streak into Saturdays bout with the Lights. In Mondays regular-season finale, Anderson Cole allowed four hits and struck out eight in five innings and the Skiers bats erupted for 13 runs in an 11-run win over downvalley rival Roaring Fork. We were really thinking that game was preparing for the playoffs, and I just think were a better team, Grinzinger said. We made a couple mistakes, and we cant afford to do that for our upcoming games. Were glad we took care of business, but were telling the kids they have to continue getting better every single game.Taylor Mayer walked, stole second and third and scored on Quinn Moreheads RBI single in the top of the first inning. Zach Maraziti followed with a double after Morehead was picked off, then Chris Dreher launched a home run to stretch the lead to three. Christian de la Cruz hit a two-run double and Lamont Gross and Mayer pitched in with run-scoring singles in succession during a four-run fourth. Mayer stuffed the stat sheet in the game, recording two hits, two runs scored and four stolen bases. Three Skiers Mayer, Dreher, and de la Cruz had two hits. Drehers single in the seventh sparked a three-run outburst; Cole had a sacrifice fly and Mike Willsky a pinch-hit, two-run double.Im definitely pleased with that production, Grinzinger said, especially from the lower side of the lineup. While Cole was less than overpowering, he needed little insurance. The junior walked four but surrendered no earned runs in upping his record to 7-0. Cole has allowed just two earned runs in 45 innings pitched, amassing a .33 ERA. He has struck out 65 batters, an average of more than 10 per seven innings.Hell need his best stuff when he takes the ball against Denver Lutheran, Grinzinger said.I dont know much about them Ive got some online stats Im working with. They have good batting averages and on-base percentages, Grinzinger added. Thats what were basing our strategy on.The Lights finished 15-3, good for second in a 3A Metro in which four teams finished with at least nine conference wins and six earned district berths. Lutherans talented senior class includes ace Patrick Stehler, who led the league with eight wins and 51 strikeouts. In addition, he finished third in ERA (3.13), has hit three home runs, is batting .485 teammate Jared Hock is at .508 and drove in 30 runs.Three players drove in 21 or more runs for the Lights, who have a .372 team batting average. Despite those gaudy numbers, Grinzinger said he is confident. He thinks his team has taken great strides since its last trip to Denver in March, when Aspen dropped three games and surrendered 32 runs in its opener against Machebeuf.No question about it, this team has come a long way, the coach added. Were a different ball team. I wanted to play a one seed. I want to test this team and see how good we can be.Lutheran, which has won three straight and is 6-2 at home this spring, should provide quite a challenge.I feel good with these guys, Grinzinger said. I think this team can make a run. Thats the way you play in the playoffs. You have to stay confident and focused.jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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