Bears have high hopes for baseball season
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
RIFLE ” After graduating only one senior from the playoff-qualifying team last year, the Rifle Bears have high expectations going into the 2008 season.
Of course the snowy weather has hindered the Bears’ ability to practice outside, but Rifle is still ready to roll with a game at Thomas Jefferson today and a doubleheader at Elizabeth on Saturday.
“It’s kinda scary playing a team that went to the state tournament last year and only lost two guys,” said Rifle head coach Troy Phillips about Thomas Jefferson. “But it will be nice to see what they can do against a team like that.”
The Bears graduated one senior from last year, Steven Samson, and lost one other player ” catcher Tanner Wilcox, who moved to California. The rest of the squad is back and looking to finish in the Western Slope League.
“We have quite a few guys that can step up and lead us,” said Phillips, who is starting his 14th year with the team. “Asa Fix will be one of our top hitters and will play shortstop and pitch some.”
Fix, who led the Bears in most offensive categories last season like average (.406), RBIs (19), runs scored (27) and home runs (three) is not only listed as one of the top Class 4A infielders in the state, but has also been projected as one of the best players in Colorado to watch by college baseball magazines.
As far as pitching goes, last year’s ace Zach Whitmore won’t be on the mound, at least for a while, this season. Whitmore tore a bicep tendon in his throwing arm and had to have surgery. He will be able to hit this weekend and then Phillips is hoping to ease him into playing positions very gradually. They hope he can be pitching by the end of the season.
Without Whitmore, Phillips says senior Kyle Bond will now be the No. 1 Bear. In 37 innings of work last season, Bond had a 1.47 ERA.
“He pitched pretty well last year and had a good ERA,” Phillips said.
Alex Haynes will move into the No. 1 catcher spot to replace WIlcox, but will also get a little time pitching. Fix, Ernesto Mendosa and a few other guys also figure to get some time on the hill.
Glenwood Springs is on the opposite side of the spectrum from Rifle, having lost eight seniors from last year’s team including four-year star pitchers/shortstops Beau Chicoine and Chance Stevens.
Two Demons who consistently filled spots in the lineup last year will be back this year in Chad Sommers and Jason Whiting. Patrick Hailey and Matt Snyder, who bring a little varsity experience, will look to be the top pitchers for Glenwood this season, with Whiting and Tayler Larsen also getting some time on the mound.
“After those four it will be pitching by committee,” said third-year head coach Eric Nieslanik.
Nieslanik will be counting on younger guys to step up to the plate and fill the remaining varsity spots. So far, it hasn’t been easy to figure who, though, as Glenwood hasn’t had many opportunities to play outside. They have thrown in the parking lot at the high school, hit in cages at the middle school a few times and have got some time in the gym to work on drills.
“It has been really difficult so far, with all the spring sports cooped up,” Nieslanik said. “There are limitations on space.”
The Demons were scheduled to begin their season Saturday by hosting Moffat County, but the game has already been postponed because of all the snow still on the Demons’ home field at Glenwood Springs Middle School.
Now Glenwood is scheduled to host Coal Ridge on Tuesday if the weather permits.
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The Coal Ridge High boys suffered their first 3A Western Slope League loss of the year Thursday night on the road at Gunnison, falling to the defending league champion Cowboys 65-45.