Rifle baseball bats hot, pitchers throwing gas
Rifle baseball is on a tear.
After Wednesday’s dominating 7-2 win over Roaring Fork, the Bears sit at a 14-4 overall with a 7-3 league record. Their exploits keep them at a comfortable second place overall standing in the 4A Western Slope League.
Head coach Troy Phillips said, especially now that his team acclimated to a full season vacant of COVID-19 complications, the Bears have relished having a full roster.
“It’s a good group of kids right now,” he said Thursday. “They’re good players that have played with each other for quite some time.”
Topping 4A Western Slope standings is the 16-2 overall, 10-0 league Palisade Bulldogs, a team which Rifle has succumbed to twice in the 2022 season.
On April 6, Palisade outscored Rifle 10-3. Another two weeks later they came back and once again rattled the Bears 11-1.
“They’re the No. 1 team in the state and have been for much of the season,” Phillips said of the Bulldogs. “They’re very well-coached and very well talented.”
But that hasn’t let Garfield County’s best high school team from outsourcing most of their opponents by heavy, heavy margins. To be exact, the Bears have netted 154 runs to their opponents’ 31 in all wins combined.
Wednesday’s nonleague game against Roaring Fork exemplified this anatomy of offensive and defensive success.
Namely, Rifle sophomore Logan Gross turned into an adolescent human highlight reel, nabbing six strikeouts in six innings on the mound before lighting it up at the plate.
“He also hit a 2-run homer in the seventh inning to extend a 4-2 lead to 6-2,” Phillips said.
Senior teammate Easton Phillips cranked out a single and a double for two RBIs. Rifle junior Connor Abbot doubled. Austin Bowlan and Broc Caldwell also cranked out one single and RBI apiece.
“Kade Street singled, reached on error and played great at catcher, blocking some key curve balls to preserve some runs from scoring,” Troy Phillips said.
Right now, the Bears head into their final five games of the regular season with a .353 team batting average, 169 hits and 139 RBIs in 18 games played.
Phillips, however, still wants to see more consistency from his batters.
“That’s an area where we’re not quite there yet,” he said. “We’ll get two or three guys hot one game, another two or three guys hot another game. We can’t seem to get a majority of them hot at once.”
Leading the charge at the plate is Gavin Peterson. So far, the Rifle senior has collected 20 hits on 46 at-bats and tops the charts with 31 total RBIs. Meanwhile, Gross has amassed 30 hits on 52 at-bats for a team-leading 30 times crossing home plate.
At the other end, pitching has continued to be a shining spot for Rifle, with the Bears boasting an overall 2.89 team-earned-run average.
“This may be one of the best pitching staffs I’ve ever had,” Phillips said.
In particular Bowlan has been red hot on the hill, giving up just 31 hits and 17 runs in 39.1 innings pitched. With a 1.25 ERA, he’s amassed six wins and just one loss.
“Austin Bowlan has an incredible curveball, and his fastball has improved,” Phillips said. “I think he’s really taken off this year.”
Up next, the Bears prepare for a Friday doubleheader showdown at Middle Park. The 3A/2A Frontier League team right now has an 8-6 overall, 5-2 league record.
Once the season closes, the Bears have a chance of reaching the final eight teams in the 4A Western Slope playoffs. The last time they accomplished this feat was 2002.
“We’re trying to be as good as we can,” Phillips said. “We’re just focusing on the next practice and the next game.”
GARFIELD COUNTY STANDINGS
4A Western Slope League
Second place: Rifle (14-4, 7-3)
Fifth place: Glenwood Springs (8-10, 2-7)
3A Western Slope League
Fourth place: Coal Ridge (11-5, 6-4)
Sixth place: Roaring Fork (8-10, 4-6)
2A Western Slope League
Third place: Grand Valley (2-11, 2-0)
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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