RIFLE (3/23/19) — The Rifle Bears opened Western Slope League with a doubleheader sweep over the traveling Summit Tigers that featured most of the early-spring foibles, but Derek Wagler was in mid-season form, pounding out six hits, including a triple in each game, and driving in five runs.

“Pitching is something we have to get better at,” Bears coach Troy Phillips said after Rifle dispatched the 0-5 Tigers, who have played all their games on the road due to Frisco’s wintry weather. “(Randy) Starks did a nice job,” Phillips said following the game-one, 9-2 victory. The senior, who improved to 2-1 in the young season, collecting each decision in the Bears’ first three games, shut Summit out on two hits for five innings before leaving with a 9-0 lead after yielding back-to-back walks to open the sixth. Dalton Stutsman, who would also close out Rifle’s 19-10 win in game two, gave up a two-out single to KJ Slaugh for the Tigers’ first score, and was clipped for another run in the 7th.

The Bears’ first run came on a two-out single to right by Wyatt Warfel, followed by an RBI hit by Charlie Hisel. Starks helped his cause, leading off the third with a bunt single. Wagler singled him to second and Eddie Medina drilled a run-scoring single up the middle for a 3-0 lead. Summit’s Riley Cibula settled down, striking out the next two hitters and getting the final out on a pop up.

Medina was responsible for erasing two early Tiger threats, gunning out runners trying to steal second after getting on base to lead off the first and third innings. Starks hit a batter and walked another in the fourth, but struck out Slaugh to end the inning.

The bottom of the Rifle lineup helped increase the lead as Warfel walked and Hisel singled before leadoff hitter Gavin Peterson bunted to load the bases. Starks walked on a 3-2 pitch to force home one run, and Wagler’s smash down the first base line was dug out by Marcus Popoff, saving a possible 3-run extra base hit, but Hisel scored to make it 5-0 after four innings.

Kaiden Miller’s pinch hit double with two outs in the fifth was only the second hit off Starks for Summit, but Zach Misch, who led off the game with the other, struck out looking on a curve ball.

Misch took the hill for the Tigers in the home half and promptly walked the first three hitters, with a passed ball and wild pitch leading to a run and bringing in another reliever, Pavel Bernlohr. Hisel greeted him with his third base hit, driving in Levi Warfel.

Starks’ sacrifice fly increased the lead to 8-0 and Wagler’s triple over the centerfielder’s head put the Bears within one run of a mercy-rule finish. However, Medina popped the first pitch towards the Summit dugout and Popoff made a fine catch to keep the game going. Starks struck out 8 and walked 5, making 89 pitches in his five-plus innings.

Because the Tigers can’t play at home, they were designated home team for the second game and rallied against two Bear hurlers to tie up a 2-0 first inning Rifle lead when Medina walked the first three Summit hitters, throwing 12 straight balls. A pair of sacrifice flies off reliever Caidyn Wilcox, tied the score, but Rifle used five consecutive walks from Andrew Reynolds as the igniter for a 7-run explosion.

Wagler, Medina, and Levi Warfel contributed run-scoring singles as the Bears took a 9-2 lead. Wilcox walked three Summit players in the second, and a pair of Rifle errors, followed by a 2-run double by Reynolds closed the gap to 9-7. Wagler moved from shortstop to the mound, ending the threat when secondbaseman David Corral turned a hot smash into the third out.

One of Summit’s coaches admitted that the hardest thing about practicing indoors is the difference in handling ground balls once on a real field. The Tigers had committed 18 errors in their first three games, but had only one in the first game. That good fortune disappeared with five miscues in the top of the third, keying a 7-run eruption that also featured another bunt single by Starks and triple from Wagler.

The shortstop turned pitcher struck out the side in the third and survived an error and two walks in the fourth before running out of gas in the fifth. By then, Wagler’s double and Wyatt Warfel’s 2-run single had the Bears in front 19-7 and looking at another chance for an early, mercy-rule victory.

But Wagler, who wound up making 76 pitches in his three-plus innings loaded the bases with two singles and a hit batter. After a strikeout, he walked Cibula to force home one run, then yielded a 2-run triple to Slaugh, closing the gap to 19-10 and ending the mercy-rule opportunity.

Stutsman came on to retire six straight Tigers to close out the sixth and seventh innings to preserve the win for Wagler and give Rifle (3-1) a 2-0 WSL record.

Wagler was 6-for-9 in the doubleheader, scoring 4 runs and knocking in 5. Medina had four hits, scored five runs, and stole 5 bases in the two games. Wyatt Warfel reached base 6 times in 7 at bats, including two hits and 4 RBIs.

Rifle resumes action after spring break with a non-league game at former 4A powerhouse Delta.