RIFLE, Colorado - Danny Bartels got his groove back by the third inning of the Rifle High School baseball team's game against Glenwood Springs. The Demons couldn't find a way to figure him out - on the mound or at the plate.
The Rifle senior pitcher shook off a shaky start in the first two innings by striking out seven of the final eight batters he faced, then hit a bases-loaded triple in the decisive fifth inning of the Bears' 11-1 Class 4A Western Slope League victory.
"At the beginning of the game, my arm just felt awful," Bartels said. "Then by the third inning, I don't know what it was, but my arm started coming alive and it felt great."
And it showed, too. Bartels finished with 11 strikeouts and one walk in five innings, setting down the final 10 Glenwood batters he faced. That, along with his 2-for-4, five-RBI performance at the plate, helped the Bears (6-7 overall, 3-5 league) snap a three-game losing streak.
"We actually played well for most of the innings against Palisade," said Rifle coach Troy Phillips, whose team was swept by the Bulldogs in Grand Junction on Saturday. "It was just disappointing because our defense wasn't as good as it normally is. Today was a pretty solid effort."
Rifle rattled off 10 hits and had 15 base runners, getting two-hit performances from Bartels, Triston Quigley, Angel Diaz and Layton Stutsman. The Bears blew the game open in the bottom of the fifth, as Bartels scored on a wild pitch right after this three-run triple to induce the 10-run mercy rule.
Those 11 unanswered runs snuffed what looked like a promising start for the Demons (2-7, 0-4), who have lost four straight after a nonleague doubleheader sweep of Roaring Fork in Carbondale. Playing with a young roster, Glenwood showed patience at the plate and took a 1-0 lead on an RBI double from Pete Roy.
"I was proud of the way we played," Glenwood coach Eric Nieslanik said. "I thought we were in the baseball game for a long time. Defensively, we played well. But offensively, we're not to the point where we can keep something going consistently."
That's when Bartels got going, though.
"As the game went on, he was placing that curve ball really well," Nieslanik said. "Those are great pitches, and I'm really glad our kids had to opportunity to see those. That's what we need as a group to get better. We got better today."
The Demons showed it when they jumped on top 1-0 in the top of the first, but the Bears responded with a run in the bottom half off an RBI single from Diaz. Quigley's two-run single in the bottom of the second snapped the 1-all tie, and Bartels capped the three-run frame with an RBI single.
It turned out that was all the offense the Bears needed, as Bartels struck out the final five batters he faced.
The Bears don't return to the field until Saturday when they play a doubleheader at Eagle Valley.
The Demons began a brutal stretch of makeup games on Monday and will host Palisade today and a doubleheader against Summit on Thursday at the Glenwood Springs Middle School baseball field.