PEACH VALLEY (4/19/18) – For an ostensibly “meaningless,” non-league game, Coal Ridge’s 9-6 win over Glenwood Springs on a windy Thursday afternoon was filled with sub-plots beyond just a 3A Western Slope League team halting a 4A WSL team’s six-game winning streak.
“We’re getting there,” Titan coach Dan Larsen said following his team’s third straight win and fourth in the last five games, after starting the season 0-and-6.
Both teams declined to start either of their top two pitchers since each will face a first-place league battle this Saturday: Glenwood (7-3, 5-0 WSL) going to Palisade (10-4, 7-0) while Coal Ridge (4-7, 3-1) hosts Aspen (8-2, 4-0).
The Titans gained confidence, despite rough mound outings by senior Jake Whitaker and sophomore Lane Stecklien, with some sparkling defensive plays limiting the Demon offensive damage, and sophomore Jared Whitaker shutting down Glenwood’s big bats for a scorelss 3-inning save.
Whitaker got the win, despite yielding four runs, five walks, and three wild pitches in three innings. Stecklien was roughed up for three hits, two walks and two runs in his one inning of relief, but was spared further damage when Jared Whitaker gunned down Tyler Boyd trying to steal – the first time the Demon leadoff man has been thrown out in eight attempts this season, and did leave the bases loaded by dropping in a dandy two-strike, two-out curveball to Kai Kanzer.
Glenwood went with seldom-used senior Brady Steen on the mound, who was staked to 2-0 and 4-2 early leads, but left in the third inning trailing 8-4, due in part to two walks, two hit batsmen, eight hits, and three wild pitches. The Titans strung together a triple by freshman Carson Miller, sophomore Jared Lund’s double, and Stecklien’s single that kayo’d Steen. Sam Fitzwilliams came in for his pitching debut and fared well, overcoming two hit batters in the fourth by striking out the side.
After that, Demon coach Eric Nieslanik went to his co-aces, giving an inning apiece to Chano Gonzalez and Davis Deaton in a tune-up for Saturday’s showdown. Gonzalez had command issues, overthrowing his fastball, with two walks and a wild pitch leading to the final Coal Ridge run, but the senior lefty was nearly perfect, fanning the side in a 13-pitch sixth.
Glenwood left ten runners on base through the first five innings, with Titan outfielders Oscar Salazar and Ryan Kotz making two, run-saving catches each. The latter, primarily a pitcher and shortstop, helped end Deaton’s season-long hitting streak by making a one-handed, over-the-shoulder, running catch of a deep drive to center.
The sophomore Whitaker moved from behind the plate to the pitching rubber in the fifth with the Titans leading 8-6. He hit the first batter he faced and two outs later Miller dropped Gonzalez’ soft liner, bringing up the Demons’ .500-hitting cleanup batter, Jake Brown. But showing that sometimes sports are about more than winning, Nieslanik replaced Brown with light-hitting Dylan Albright, who struck out for the third time in three at bats this season. After the game, Nieslanik spent some time speaking with Brown, a senior, who had been removed from the game for undisclosed reasons and changed out of his uniform.
What that means for Saturday’s doubleheader at Palisade remains to be seen, but Coal Ridge is riding high after halting Glenwood’s winning streak, featuring two-hit games from Lund, Stecklien, and Jake Whitaker, who also picked up his first win of the season. Glenwood’s Dylan Lee staked the Demons to a 2-0 first-inning lead with his first varsity homer. Boyd was aboard four times on two hits and two walks and Gonzalez extended his season-long hitting streak to ten games.