Danny Bartels has a zone.
The Rifle High School senior pitcher found himself in that zone Monday in the baseball team's 8-5 victory over Steamboat Springs. That zone came in the fourth inning, when the Sailors went from hardly touching the ball at the plate to loading the bases with nobody out.
That's where Bartels found his zone, and it's a zone that he's been able to find often in his time with the Bears.
"At that point, I focus on the batter and focus on getting strikes," Bartels said. "When someone gets to third [base], I tell myself, 'well, they're not going to get home because I'm pitching to the plate.'
"All I have to do is worry about getting the batter," he continued. "Once I get the batter, everything else takes care of itself."
Bartels has been the guy on the mound who has taken care of things for Rifle. He was an all-state award winner at the Class 3A level in 2012 as a pitcher, which complimented his stellar abilities at the plate. And the improvement he's shown in the first part of this season has been obvious, even without a portfolio of statistics from this season.
"He has some really high expectation for this season," Rifle coach Troy Phillips said. "He worked really hard in the weight room and he's done all of the little things that we've asked guys to do.
"He and Triston [Quigley, a senior infielder for Rifle] have become the leaders of the team, and that's simply because they've done the things in the off-season that we've asked guys to do," the coach continued. "When guys do the work that they're supposed to be doing, it's easy for them to be leaders, and people will look up to them because they know that they've done the work. And they have."
Though Bartels' portfolio from this season isn't complete yet, he has plenty of things to be proud of from a stellar junior year.
Bartels was one of the best pitchers at Colorado's 3A level least season. His 10 wins on the mound broke the school record for victories in a season, as were his 100 strikeouts in 71 innings pitched. He finished with a 1.77 ERA while only allowing 19 walks and 57 base hits.
That's definitely grown since his sophomore year, when he went 6-5 with a 3.36 ERA, 44 strikeouts and 16 walks while allowing 80 hits in 60 1/3 innings.
In an effort to get better, Bartels was on a fall baseball team in Grand Junction, which gave him the opportunity to play against some junior college opponents. He also said he gained 20 pounds of muscle when he was in the weight room during the fall, beefing up to just over 155 pounds.
"I didn't grow very much," Bartels laughed. "I guess that was more bulk that I put on."
That bulk has helped put him on track to a better season at the plate, too. In 2012, Bartels hit .386 with a homer and 21 RBIs during the Bears' 17-3 campaign. This season, he's started out 5-for-10 with a homer and eight RBIs, including four stolen bases. On the mound, the velocity on his fastball has reached 82 mph, Bartels said.
Phillips is hoping the example that Bartels and Quigley set this year will have a carry over effect on this year's juniors and underclassmen. In the meantime, however, Bartels just wants to stay in a zone to help this year's team out in every way he can.
"If I'm not hitting the ball, than I'm not really producing for our team," Bartels said. "If I'm not pitching well, then I'm also not producing for my team."