Baseball: Rifle rallies for split in front of new stands
RIFLE — After months of planning and construction that began in the summer of 2014, Cooper Field at Rifle’s Deerfield Park complex opened its doors to the public.
Rifle High School baseball christened the ballpark’s $1.3 million renovation with their home and Class 4A Western Slope League opening doubleheader against Steamboat Springs. The Bears suffered their first loss of the season, 8-6, in a thrilling 10-inning affair, before thrilling the crowd with a stunning come-from-behind 10-9 win in Game 2.
Navy and gold filled the home side of the impressive bleachers as the Bears took the field to open their home slate. Thanks to a mild February, the playing surface appeared in mid-season condition.
Rifle starter Morgan Robinson settled in after falling behind 4-0 after two, holding Steamboat (2-4, 1-2 4A WSL) scoreless over the next two innings, only to see his offense fall just as quiet. When the Sailors scraped out single runs in the fifth and seventh innings, the Bears faced a 6-4 deficit heading into their final half-inning.
The Bears opened the seventh with a Blaine Vance walk, followed by an Ivan Quezada double. A sacrifice and a Sailors error later helped the Bears tie the score at 6 to force extra innings In the extra frames, the Bears turned away the Sailors in the eighth, but couldn’t duplicate the feat in the 10th, where the Sailors scored twice in a decisive rally.
Between games of the doubleheader, Parks Superintendent Dave Hadley relined the batter’s box, before taking a moment to admire the facility’s new face.
“Probably the biggest thing that we’ve done is the use of the growth covers to help around the mound,” Hadley said. “The grass is already looking more like it would be much later in the spring.”
In addition, Hadley noted the addition of 270 feet of drainage in the warning track. “The crew has been working hard for the last couple of weeks in preparation for this.”
Ultimately, it was hard to ignore the public approval. Smiles on the faces of the Bears’ faithful and comments on the new-and-improved Cooper Field were the order of the day. Rifle Parks & Recreation Director Tom Whitmore glowed about the public’s introduction to the project that has been his vision.
“Everything I’ve heard has been positive,” Whitmore said after circulating throughout the crowd, “People have been driving by here for weeks, so it’s great for them to finally come out and be here.”
The new press box and concessions area drew plenty of attention, but according to Whitmore, the brand new restroom facility drew some of the highest praise.
“I’ve gotten lots of feedback on how happy people are that there’s something better than the portable facilities that have been out here for years.”
In the second game, the Bears fell behind early again. Even with a workmanlike pitching performance from Takoda Chaney, who allowed just two runs through five innings, the Bears bats were held quiet. When the Sailors erupted for seven runs in the sixth, the Bears seemed destined to suffer a sweep.
Yet, for all the build-up to the day, it only seemed fitting that the Bears would put on a dramatic display on a day filled with so much anticipation.
For the first time all day, the Bears finally exploded for offense of their own. Senior Layton Stutsman pounded out two RBI hits in the same inning as the Bears batted around and scored 10 times in the home half of the sixth. His second hit — a two-run triple — improbably tied the score at 9 before he scored moments later on a wild pitch. Gabe Marbas and Bryer Rew knocked RBI doubles during the flurry.
It earned the Bears (2-1, 1-1 4A WSL) the split and their first win in league play in 2015. They continue an early season homestand when they host Basalt on Wednesday.
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