A Titanic step forward
PEACH VALLEY — Coal Ridge High School’s baseball team has a new identity this season, and it’s showing in a big way.
“Back at the beginning of the season, we had a big talk about these guys just competing,” first-year Coal Ridge coach Dan Larsen said. “I think it’s safe to say that we’re doing that.”
And then some.
Nathan Nelson and Richie Winkler each threw complete games for the Titans, who kept themselves in the running for reaching the Class 3A state playoffs for the first time with a doubleheader sweep of Moffat County on Saturday.
“We just have a lot of confidence now,” Winkler said. “It really made a difference when we were down early. Nobody got angry or upset. We knew that we could come back.”
That’s what the Titans did, rallying from a five-run deficit for a 10-5 victory in the first game. Then, Coal Ridge came back from an early three-run deficit to post a 14-6 win in the nightcap.
And this season, comebacks have been the story for Coal Ridge.
With Saturday’s wins, the Titans (7-8 overall, 6-6 class 3A Western Slope League play) moved comfortably into fifth place in the league standings.
The top five teams in the 3A WSL standings earn a berth in the state playoffs.
They can clinch a berth in the 3A state playoffs — the program’s first postseason berth since its inaugural 2007-08 school year — one more win. The Titans face Aspen (1-13, 1-11) on Monday and Grand Valley (2-12, 2-11) on Tuesday. Coal Ridge will then finish the season Saturday with a doubleheader at first-place Gunnison.
That’s not all, either. The seven games Coal Ridge has won this season matches the total number of wins the program compiled in the previous four seasons. The Titans went a combined 7-63 in the past four years, including a 1-18 record in 2010, according to records posted on http://www.maxpreps.com.
“You can tell in the dugout that everyone has a lot of confidence this year,” Winkler said. “We’ve never had that before until now.”
Winkler, along with pitching a complete game in the nightcap, finished 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored. Jerome Pizzelli went 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles and three runs scored and Jake Solinger finished 2-for-5 with a solo home run and three RBIs, helping Coal Ridge pound out 16 hits against the Bulldogs.
Moffat County took the lead in the first inning when Winkler loaded the bases, and the Bulldogs put three runs on the board on RBI singles from Spencer Turner and Tyler Jenkins and a sacrifice fly from Brett Lloyd. The Titans rallied immediately, however, when Winkler hit an RBI single, Greyson Keener followed with an RBI double and Nelson hit a two-run infield single to put Coal Ridge ahead to stay.
In the opener, Moffat County (5-12, 4-10 league) again took the initial lead, as Colten Yoast and Jenkins both homered to stake the Bulldogs to a 5-0 lead headed into the top of the fourth inning. The Titans broke through in the bottom of the fifth inning, though, sending 10 batters to the plate during a seven-run inning.
Keener hit a pair of doubles and Solinger tripled for the Titans, who took advantage of four Moffat County errors.
“In the years past, from what I’ve seen here, those games would have been over when we got down by that much,” said Larsen, who was an assistant coach at Coal Ridge before taking the head coaching job this season. “We would have just wilted away and folded in the past. These guys battled and hit the ball, and they didn’t have these games handed to them. I really think we’ve turned the corner as a program.”
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The Rifle High School baseball team is set to host a regional round as the No. 2 seed overall in the Class 4A State Baseball playoffs this weekend.