Cole lifts Aspen in extra innings
The Aspen Times
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE, Colorado – Aspen pitcher Anderson Cole admits he is still working to regain his 2009 form after MCL surgery this winter.
Still, he looked every bit like an ace – and the reigning 3A Western Slope League player of the year – Tuesday afternoon in Carbondale.
Cole was summoned from the dugout after just three Roaring Fork players came to the plate in the bottom of the first inning.
Three-plus hours, nine innings and more than 100 pitches later – after his teammates broke a three-all tie with four runs in the top of the 10th – Cole worked a ninth consecutive scoreless inning to seal a dramatic 7-3, come-from-behind victory over the Rams.
Afterward, the usually stoic Cole pumped his fist as teammates crowded the center of the diamond.
“I’m a little tired. I don’t think anyone expected me to pitch 10 innings,” said Cole, who threw seven innings in Saturday’s win over Gunnison. “The past couple of starts, I haven’t gotten out the gate so well … but I’m getting my confidence back.”
Cole took the mound with two runners on and one out in the first. Johnny Nieslanik followed with a sacrifice fly, then Shea Nieslanik hit a blooper over second base, driving in two runs to stretch the Roaring Fork lead to 3-0.
That is all the Rams would get. Cole struck out eight, walked four and wiggled out of jams in the second, sixth and eighth innings.
He Induced a fly-out, then gloved a hard come-backer to strand two Roaring Fork players in scoring position in the second. With two Rams on base in the sixth, Cole came up with a big strikeout and another fly-out.
Two innings later, with runners on first and second and two outs, Aspen pulled off the hidden ball trick to escape without allowing a potential game-winning run. Cole turned and faked a pick-off throw to second base, prompting multiple Skiers to start yelling and middle infielders Christian De La Cruz and Walker Moriarty to dive to the dirt. Amid the confusion, Roaring Fork’s Alex Rascon wandered off the bag and was tagged out.
Cole scattered five hits in the final nine innings.
“We hit the ball hard, it was just right at them,” Rams head coach Tim Nieslanik said. “[Cole’s] a good pitcher. We got beat by a good pitcher today.”
“That [last inning] was definitely going to be [Cole’s] last,” Aspen head coach Nate Grinzinger said. “We were looking for signs of fatigue. He didn’t show an ounce.
“He did a good job keeping his composure. Instead of trying to take the game over by himself, he was still making pitches.”
The Skiers (5-7 overall) needed a strong effort from Cole to keep them in the game on a day when their bats struggled. Roaring Fork starter Rascon retired the first 11 batters he faced before Walker Moriarty doubled to the gap in left-center with two outs in the fourth. He came around to score on De La Cruz’s single to trim the deficit to two.
Aspen pulled closer in the sixth, when Moriarty hit an RBI single up the middle to drive in Quinn Morehead. Moriarty was 3-for-3 with two runs scored.
In the seventh, against hard-throwing reliever Johnny Nieslanik, the Skiers pulled even. Zack Babich was hit by a pitch, then advanced to second on a delayed steal. After a strikeout, No. 9 hitter Daniel Munger lined a two-out, run-scoring single to left.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game that big or that intense,” Cole said.
After both teams went scoreless in the eighth and ninth innings, Aspen blew things wide open in the 10th. Nieslanik hit Munger, then walked Taylor Mayer and Morehead to load the bases with no outs. Moriarty drove in a run with a well-placed bunt down the third-base line, then Chris Dreher drew a walk, chasing Nieslanik.
De La Cruz rudely welcomed reliever Clay Gross with an RBI single to right. The Skiers pushed across two more runs on wild pitches to take a 7-3 lead.
“That’s where we’ve struggled. We get to a point in the game where we lose focus,” Tim Nieslanik said. “We’re just trying to figure that out. … I’m pleased we at least made it to the 10th before we lost that focus.”
Cole worked around a one-out single in the bottom of the 10th to finish off a gutsy performance and keep his team in the postseason conversation; Aspen is battling Gunnison for the Slope’s fifth and final playoff spot.
“In the middle of the game, I felt good and I wanted to keep going,” Cole said. “I was focusing my best to shut down the other team.”
“He definitely backed our hitters up,” Grinzinger added.
“What a great win. They’re so excited.”
The two teams will square off again at 4 p.m. Monday in El Jebel. First, Roaring Fork will host a doubleheader with Hotchkiss and Aspen will visit Coal Ridge for two on Saturday.
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