CARBONDALE, Colorado - Almost there.
That's the consensus feeling for the Roaring Fork High School baseball team, even if the scores of Saturday's Class 3A Western Slope League doubleheader against Olathe don't say that.
"I'm surprisingly shocked at how well we're doing," Rams first baseman Johnny Nieslanik said following Roaring Fork's 23-11 and 10-6 losses to the Pirates. "The first couple of games we really struggled, but the growth we've had from then until now has been really good."
Granted, the Rams' overall record (0-5 overall, 0-4 WSL) doesn't show it either, but that record doesn't show the opponents Roaring Fork has faced. Along with Olathe, which reached the eight-team 3A state tournament in Greeley last year, the Rams have also lost to Hotchkiss, a 2A team which was a postseason team at the 3A level a year ago. Roaring Fork's first opponent of the season, Cedaredge, also reached the 3A postseason.
Throw in the new faces on the Rams' roster, thanks in part from three players being ineligible for the weekend league doubleheader, and Roaring Fork is finding itself counting victories in different ways at the start of the season.
"We have some real experienced ballplayers who know exactly how to play the game, and we have some guys who are just learning the basics," Roaring Fork coach Marty Madsen said. "It's hard to really move them along as fast as we'd like but, hey, there's not better way to learn then to just get right into it, I guess."
These aren't sacrificial Rams, by any means. If anything, Roaring Fork gave Olathe all it could handle.
In the second game, Roaring Fork jumped on top 1-0 in the first after a triple from Sam Morse and an RBI groundout from Nieslanik, who limited Olathe to just one hit through the first three innings on the mound. A two-run fourth inning by the Pirates put them up to stay, and a five-run sixth frame - highlighted by a two-run double from Calvin Corey - pushed Olathe's lead to 7-1.
Roaring Fork roared back in the bottom of the inning, though, scoring all five of its runs with two outs off Olathe starting pitcher Dominick Rubalcaba. A two-run single from Tanner Nieslanik, a run-scoring single from Morse and a run-scoring throwing error from Olathe catcher Mario Hightower brought the Rams within one at 7-6.
Olathe padded its lead in the seventh with three runs, though, and relief pitcher Calvin Corey pitched a perfect seventh inning to close it out.
In the opener, the Rams jumped on top from the get go with a nine-run first inning. An eight-run frame in the third-inning for Olathe, however, gave the pirates a 13-9 lead.
Johnny Nieslanik finished 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles, two runs scored and three RBIs, and Will Masters added a 2-for-4, three RBI performance. Brandon Williams was also big at the plate in the opener, going 2-for-4 with an RBI. The trio accounted for seven of Roaring Fork's eight hits.
"From where we've been in the past few weeks up until now is, in my opinion, pretty great progress," Madsen said. "It's unfortunate that the last three outings we've had are against what are probably the best three teams we're going to see. It's been a real test for us.
"Like Johnny says, we're so close. It's frustrating, but it feels good because it's like that light is at the end of the tunnel."