Phillips makes right pitch, lands softball job
Citizen Telegram Sports Editor
RIFLE — Troy Phillips made a different kind of sales pitch when he looked to become the head softball coach at Rifle High School — and it’s a pitch that went right over the plate.
“I feel like I understand the game really well and I feel like I can help the team become successful again,” said Phillips, who this summer took over as the school’s new head softball coach. “Now, success isn’t going to be measured by wins and losses initially … we’re going to have to focus simply on just getting better, because the wins will take care of themselves after we get the basics down.”
Phillips has a full understanding of where Rifle’s softball program is after spending 19 years as an assistant coach to program founder and former head coach Cindy Skinner, who retired after the 2015 spring semester as a counselor at Rifle High. The Bears won just one game last season and, as Phillips puts it, lost their best players from that team to graduation.
With that, Phillips has taken the initiative to start building the program practically from the ground up, holding morning workout sessions at Deerfield Park for pitchers and catchers along with others for position players in an effort to build some key skill sets before practice officially begins in the middle of August.
Phillips also is encouraged by the interest that’s been shown for the upcoming season. He said that 36 players attended the initial team meeting prior to the end of this past school year, meaning he potentially has the option of being picky about his players since the program — varsity and junior varsity — only holds 24 players.
“We’ll see how many of them keep showing up,” he said with a smile. “There’s still some of them that I haven’t gotten to see play yet.”
Phillips has plenty of experience coaching at Rifle High. He’s been the head baseball coach at the school for as long as he’d been the assistant softball coach. Phillips, who also is going into his seventh year as the school’s athletic director, was hired by Principal Todd Ellis and was not involved in the hiring process since he applied for the job.
He’s had a very successful run as the school’s baseball coach, accumulating a record of 246-144-1 after 20 seasons. His baseball teams have won five Class 4A Western Slope League championships, one 3A WSL title and three district championships. During his tenure, Rifle is one of only eight teams with an enrollment of less than 1,000 students that has reached the Class 4A State Championships.
Then again, Skinner had plenty of success during her time as Rifle’s head softball coach. Her tenure included five Class 4A WSL championships from 2002 to 2008, including a streak four consecutive league titles from 2005 to 2008. Rifle also went to the 4A State Championships in 2002 and 2004.
Phillips, after the building project with the program is finished, said he hopes Rifle’s softball team can get back to that level of success.
“I just want to program to be at the same level it was when Cindy was here,” Phillips said. “At first, I just want us to be in a place where we’re competitive with each of the teams in our league. From there, we can build a lot more.”
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The city of Rifle plans to allocate grant funding for improvements to Railroad Avenue and Third Street.