Memorable journey for CRV all-stars comes to an end
Special to the Post Independent
Sometimes an event develops character in a way that we don’t recognize at the time. Perhaps that will be so for 13 boys who traveled this summer to the state Little League tournament.
Without much encouragement, the 8- to 10-year-old All-Stars from the Colorado River Valley Little League came together as a team. They persevered and found joy in the game. They may not always be remembered as winners — they were eliminated from the tournament after two games — but they were never losers.
Many CRV league officials questioned whether there was enough talent to select an all-star team. But Rifle Yankees coach Matt Magnuson disagreed and volunteered to coach a team if one was selected. Thus, 13 players were chosen for their outstanding performances during the regular season to represent CRV.
Most Little League teams are made up of boys from the same area. Not so for the CRV 13, who were from towns spanning nearly 110 miles.
Magnuson, Yankee assistant and first-year coach Matt LaRoque and 20-year veteran coach Erik Slade of New Castle united to build the team.
That’s about more than the game; Magnuson emphasized that the players must believe in themselves. Slade taught them how to act as all stars in their comportment and willingness to play, regardless of one’s role.
“My biggest concern was taking a group of boys that had carried their teams during the season and find out if they could learn to trust each other,” Slade said.
He would soon find out during the district tournament.
NO ‘I’ IN TEAM
Although the district tournament included teams from bigger towns and cities that enjoyed deeper pools of talent, CRV surprised many by dominating from the start. The CRV 13 blew past Grand Mesa Little League, 12-2, in the team’s opener. In game two, they dispatched local rival Three Rivers Little League of Glenwood Springs, 18-8. Next up were the All-Stars from Delta, who never had a chance as Juan Pablo Olivas pitched a one-hitter to lead CRV to a 14-0 victory.
In the final, CRV came out fast with an 8-0 lead. Monument would claw back to even the score at 11-11 after three full innings. Faced with its first challenge of the tournament, the team rallied, winning 17-13 to secure CRV’s first-ever district title.
As the team celebrated, parents and coaches realized they would have to figure out how to get the team to the state tournament. CRV had no contingencies in place to actually assist the team in getting to the state tournament in Thornton, a western suburb of Denver.
The CRV 13 began fundraising door to door, setting up donation tables at City Market stores and serving hot dogs at other locations. Their fundraising message was simple: Please join our team. Together with their parents, they were able to cover travel and lodging expenses.
With funds in hand, families in tow and blessed with good wishes from their communities, the newly minted District 1 champions pulled into Thornton in mid-July. Parents seemed nervous, but the boys appeared happy for the chance to continue playing ball. They had business to take care of.
The District 1 champs’ first opponent was the All-Stars from North Boulder, tournament host and defending state champs. The CRV team started off hot, but North Boulder took the lead and clung to it. The final score was 12-11, CRV’s first loss of the summer.
Thrown into the Loser’s Bracket, parents were curious to see how their boys would respond. The CRV 13 would stay true to the team’s mature character and look to rebound.
“We’re OK,” said team captain Jakson Slade. “We know we can play better.”
“I know I can play better and want to do it for my coaches,” said Finley Deming, who caught in every inning of the team’s games at both district and state.
The following day, the team would face the All-Stars from Cortez, who committed nine errors and struggled in their opener against Arapahoe Little League, losing 10-3.
Robbie Magnuson led with a single to be knocked in by team RBI leader Slade. But Cortez came out on fire, with a 10-1 lead after two innings. Ultimately, Cortez kept its season alive with a 12-7 win.
The game ended and players and fans realized their magic carpet ride had come to an end. There were some tears, mostly from parents who had seen their boys achieve more than any other 8- to 10-year-old CRV team ever had.
Magnuson said he couldn’t get over “how well these kids played for each other. I wish we could keep playing.”
“They made me a better coach and person. I cannot believe what an experience this has been,” LaRoque said.
Veteran coach Slade said he had “never seen a group of boys come together as well as these boys. It was an honor to coach them.”
The tournament journey was over, but its lessons may echo for years.
The CRV 13 will revel in happy memories of newfound friends, of dominate victories against stronger foes, having reduced the distance from New Castle to Rangely, and knowing that they will go to bed each night a better baseball player, a stronger person and, forever, a champion.
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