On a cold, wet and blustery Tuesday at Ron Patch Field in Carbondale, the Rifle Bears baseball team heated things up against the host Roaring Fork Rams, using a high-powered offense and impressive pitching to punctuate a 16-3 win.
With weather conditions threatening the start of the game, the two teams hunkered down in their respective dugouts before catching a window of clear skies, allowing the game to go on as scheduled.
That early window was all that Rifle needed in a game that lasted nearly two and a half hours.
Coming out of the gate strong, the Bears scored four runs each in the first and second innings, highlighted by Morgan Robinson’s titanic shot to dead centerfield, giving the Bears a 3-0 lead off of Roaring Fork pitcher Taylor Carney.
The approach at the plate early on allowed the Bears to wait for their pitch, which they then put into play more often than not in the first two innings.
“I didn’t see a whole lot of guys swinging at stuff out of the zone,” Rifle head coach Troy Phillips said. “Our whole mentality is to have quality at-bats. Walks are a part of that, so if they can keep in that mindset and not worry about averages then we’ll be alright.”
From there, things seemed to snowball for the Rams, who had trouble throwing the ball around, allowing the Bears to advance on the base paths due to wild pitches and passed balls, as well as one errant throwback from catcher Dawson Kuhl to Carney, which allowed a runner to scoot up another 90 feet into scoring position.
“Some of it was the weather; some of it was the youth,” Roaring Fork head coach Marty Madsen said. “It’s early season; just three games. It’s something that will come, but we just need to focus on making the routine play. The more games we get under our belt, the more experience we’ll gain.”
Holding an 8-0 lead after two turns at bat, the Bears relied on Robinson to shut things down on the mound.
Did he ever.
The senior turned in his second straight impressive start, needing just 29 pitches to get through two innings of work while mowing down four of the seven hitters he faced. Robinson didn’t allow a single hit and walked just one batter in his two impressive innings.
“His last game [against Steamboat Springs] was like the same as he started today’s game,” Phillips said. “Hopefully this becomes a trend, which would be big for us.”
As Robinson held down the fort on the mound, the Bears continued to slap out hits against the Rams’ pitchers. Leading off the top of the third inning, Rifle senior, Ivan Quezada lined a single through the hole between first and second. Senior second baseman Ty Leyba then followed with a single of his own to put runners on first and second with nobody out for the Bears.
Much like the first two innings, Rifle’s big hitters came through once again as junior Drake Montgomery lined an RBI single into right field before Robinson followed with a bloop single into left, giving the Bears a 10-0 lead.
Despite trailing by 10 runs to a veteran team like Rifle, the young Rams showed a ton of heart in the third inning, battling back for three runs off of reliever Takoda Chaney.
“When you give a team like Rifle 10 early runs, it’s very hard to battle back,” Roaring Fork head coach Marty Madsen said. “But we’ve really worked with the young club on having a good at-bat, working the count and getting the pitches that we need. We’re starting to see that if we’re working the count, we’re getting good pitches to hit. I was very pleased with our approach at the plate; we were very selective. That’s a good step in the right direction.”
After recording two quick outs to start the inning, Chaney ran into trouble at the top of the Roaring Fork lineup as junior Aldo Pinela ripped a single into right field to get something started for the Rams.
Sophomore Ralph Good followed with a strikeout, but the third strike got past Montgomery behind the plate, allowing Good to race to first on the passed ball.
On the passed ball, Pinela — who stole second base the pitch before — ended up at third base, which put more pressure on Chaney to get out of the jam.
Looking to work his way out of it, Chaney went for a pick-off attempt at first base, but the throw sailed wide, allowing Pinela to trot home for the first Roaring Fork run of the game.
With Good at second base, sophomore Drew Broadhurst drove him in with a single before later scoring himself on another passed ball.
Down just 10-3, the Rams started to build confidence and momentum against the Bears, but an RBI single by Leyba drove in Quezada in the fourth inning before the Bears exploded for five more runs in the fifth, putting the game out of reach for the Rams.
In the win, Robinson went 2-for-2 while driving in three runs. Leyba went 2-for-2 with two singles, two walks, three runs scored and one RBI, while Quezada went 2-for-3 with two singles, two stolen bases and three runs scored.
For Roaring Fork, Pinela and Broadhurst picked up the lone hits for the Rams, while Kuhl struck out three in three innings of work. Carney added three strikeouts in two innings of work, all of which came off of curveballs that fooled the Rifle hitters.
The Rams will hit the field again Thursday to take on the Glenwood Springs Demons, while the Bears will have off until Saturday, when they host Summit for league action.
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