WEST GLENWOOD SPRINGS (5/7/18) – “We had to step it up today if we wanted to continue the season,” Glenwood Springs baseball coach Eric Nieslanik said as his team held onto second place in the Western Slope League with a sweep of Summit County in Monday’s make-up doubleheader.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the total team effort,” Nieslanik remarked when the Demons’ 7-8-9 hitters combined for ten hits and 13 RBI’s in the 15-11, 12-1 wins that improved their league record to 10-2, while the Tigers fell back to 5-5.
After sophomore Cole Houston and Nieslanik’s freshman son Wheatley pitched Glenwood to a sweep of Saturday’s doubleheader with Battle Mountain, the Demons had a two-game lead on Summit (9-8, 5-5 WSL), which faced four games in two days, including a twin bill Tuesday at Steamboat Springs. But if the Tigers had swept Glenwood, they would have vaulted over the Demons into the league’s second playoff seed.
As it is, Glenwood (13-6, 10-2) will wait to see if their RPI rating (used to determine wild card, playoff seedings) is good enough to get them into Saturday’s first playoff round. “I’ve spent time with the RPI,” Nieslanik said after his team ripped 21 hits, most coming off Summit’s Max Hess and Turner McDonald, who came into the day with a 6-1 combined record. “We should bounce up to the low twenties,” Nieslanik predicted about the 32-team playoff field.
The Demons countered the Tigers’ starters with Chano Gonzalez (6-2) and Davis Deaton (3-3). The key to Glenwood’s season has been “when those two guys pitch well,” Nieslanik stated. “When they struggle with control, we’ve got to grind through. It was good to see the offense today.”
Hess and McDonald put Glenwood in an early, first-inning hole in game one with a triple and two-run home run respectively. Three, third-inning walks and a two-RBI double by freshman Sammy Pothier had Summit ahead 4-1, which could have been worse, but Gonzalez worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam.
In the home half, Hess opened the frame by hitting Tyler Boyd, gave up a single to Dylan Lee, then balked home a run before Gonzalez’ groundout brought the Demons within one, 4-3. Sam Fitzwilliams began a two-out rally with a single, and Houston drew the second of three walks he’d receive, bringing up Kai Kanzer in the seventh spot. The junior catcher provided the first of three straight RBI singles – the others from Ash Stolley and Leo Anchondo. The bottom of the lineup capped a six-run barrage for a 7-4 lead.
Gonzalez had his best inning in the fourth, striking out the side around a single by freshman Zach Misch. His teammates rewarded him with a five-run bonus featuring consecutive singles by Jake Brown, Fitzwilliams, and Houston, keyed by Stolley’s two-run triple.
Now leading 12-4, Gonzalez couldn’t survive the fifth, yielding a two-run single before being replaced by Fitzwilliams. The sophomore, who had finished up for Nieslanik in Saturday’s shutout win, couldn’t find the plate against the Tigers, walking one and hitting another to load the bases. Then Misch and McDonald singled in a pair of runs each, drawing Summit within two, 12-10.
The Demons added two insurance runs on a single by Gonzalez, two Tiger errors, a sacrifice fly by Kanzer and Brown coming home on a double steal. A two-base hit by Anchondo opened the sixth, and he scored on Boyd’s single for a 15-10 lead going into the seventh.
Fitzwilliams gave up a single, then hit Hess to bring second-game starter Deaton to the mound. The senior lefty had control issues, walking two to force in a run, but escaped a bases-loaded, one-out threat when Boyd ranged toward second for Pothier’s hot grounder, slid into second for one out, pushed off the bag and fired to first to complete the game-ending double play.
Despite giving up 8 hits, 6 runs, and 5 walks in 104 pitches, Gonzalez picked up his sixth win in eight decisions, clinching second place for the Demons.
Game two was now for playoff seeding, and Deaton took the hill again. Because Summit has no home field and has had to play all its games on the road, the Tigers were allowed to be the home team, starting McDonald, their senior ace.
Gonzalez singled with two outs in the first and Brown’s base hit staked Deaton to an early 1-0 lead. Hess led off the Tiger half with a double, but Deaton ended a two-out, two-on situation by picking off the runner from first.
Glenwood took advantage of two more Summit errors and used singles by Fitzwilliams, Houston, and Boyd to extend the lead to 3-0. Deaton had an unusual bottom of the second, walking three to load the bases, interspersed with three strikeouts, stranding the runners.
In the third, the Demons batted around for seven runs, again keyed by three straight hits from the bottom of the order, Houston, Kaiser, and Stolley. Brown led off the inning with a double, with a walk to Fitzwilliams ending McDonald’s mound stint when he was removed with what appeared to be a sore pitching shoulder.
Up 10-0, Glenwood again seemed poised for a possible mercy-rule ending, but McDonald’s impressive blast over the centerfield fence in the last of the third kept the game going past the minimum five innings.
In the top of the sixth, yet another Summit error and Dylan Albright’s double padded the lead to 12-1. Anchondo took over for Davis and had an adventurous final inning. McDonald walked, and with one out, Pothier’s blooper fell between three Demons in short right, but Chris Deaton, recovering from shoulder surgery, alertly tossed the ball to second for the force out. A subsequent ground ball bounced off Fitzwilliams’ glove into foul territory, but Gonzalez hustled to pick it up and fired a rocket to Boyd at second base, retiring the side and ending the game.
“What a fitting way to end it,” Nieslanik said of the unusual play. “Our defense has been solid all year long,” the coach praised, as Glenwood completed its sixth straight win with one or fewer errors per game.
Deaton got the victory, allowing just 3-hits in five innings, striking out ten with no walks beyond the three in the second frame.
For the doubleheader, Boyd and Brown, playing their last home games for the Demons, combined for nine hits, Fitzwilliams adding four and extending his RBI total to 17 over the last six games.
The players batting in the 7-8-9 spots for the doubleheader included Houston (3-for-6, 4 runs, 3 RBIs), Kanzer (2-for-5, 4 RBIs) Stolley (3-for-6, 3 runs, 4 RBIs), and Anchondo (2-for-3, 2 runs, 2 RBIs). “We talk about, ‘Let’s hit all the way through the lineup,” Nieslanik said, and the realization of that goal has paved the way for Glenwood’s best league finish since 2012 when they tied for second with Delta.