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Bears more than familiar with Regional foe

Phil Sandoval

Deja vu?

Rifle hopes that’s not the case Friday when the Bears face Pueblo Central in the opening round of the 4A Regional Baseball Tournament at Englewood High School.

Last year, both teams opened Regionals against each other, and Pueblo Central, out of the South Central League, sent Rifle home with a season-concluding 10-9 loss.

Going into Friday’s 12:30 p.m. game, both teams have similiar makeups this year.

Both take long winning streaks into the contest, and both clubs have talented and deep pitching staffs.

Rifle’s wins over Palisade and Montrose, which earned the Bears the District championship, upped Rifle’s winning streak to 13 straight games. The Bears are 18-3 this season.

Pueblo Central, third in the South Central League, won its last nine games.

Coincidentally, the last loss for the two teams came a day apart.

On April 12, Rifle dropped a 6-3 nonleague decision at Montrose. One day earlier, the Wildcats fell to South Central League rival Pueblo County 6-2.

And the South Central League is well represented at this year’s Regionals.

Three teams, including last year’s state champ, Pueblo South, advanced from districts to the Sweet 16.

Rifle is the No. 9 seed among the 16 remaining teams. Pueblo Central was seeded eighth.

Pitching-wise, the Bears can give the ball to either Danny Fedirko or Jason Enewold as Friday’s starting pitcher.

Both pitchers are juniors with six wins each. Enewold has more strikeouts (39 to Fedirko’s 25) and a lower earned run average (2.60 to 2.65). Fedirko has pitched more innings (37 to Ewewold’s 35) and has issued a team-low eight walks.

If either starter falters, Phillips can turn to either senior Brad Pace (2-0, with three saves) or Josh May (2-0, 1.91 ERA) to get the Bears out of a jam.

Pueblo Central counters with senior righthander Chris Brown (4-0, 50 strikeouts, 2.63 ERA) or Jon Carrilo, a junior whose amassed a 3-1 record with a 2.92 ERA.

Rifle appears to have the edge in the hitting department.

The Bears are batting .386 as a team with five of the starting nine hitting .400 or better.

Owen Madison, a junior, has 34 hits in 73 at-bats with 23 runs batted in. His .466 batting average leads the team.

Nick Krick and Jesse Holgate are just as potent at the plate. The pair of outfielders currently sport batting averages of .431 and .425, respectively.

Senior first baseman Blake Barth is the Bears’ power hitter. He ranks 10th in 4A in RBIs with 28.

A win does not assure either team of a spot in the 4A semifinals.

The team that wins the early game has to turn around and play the winner of the Centaurus-Sand Creek game later Friday afternoon.

And that’s no easy task.

Despite suffering their first loss of the season (6-2 to Skyline) in the District Tournament championship game, the 21-1 Centaurus Warriors from Lafayette (near Boulder) were given the No. 1 seed.

Nick Guanagnoli is Centaurus’ best player. He has a .627 batting average and 38 RBIs. Those numbers are close to the top among all Colorado prep hitters, regardless of classification.

As a pitcher, the Warrior senior is just as tough. In just over 36 innings, Guanagnoli has 43 strikeouts, a 1.36 ERA and a perfect 6-0 won-loss record.

Centaurus has a couple more big sticks in their lineup in second baseman Drew Hirshon (.506 average, 32 RBI’s), first baseman Josh Mendez (34 RBIs), and outfielder Josh Baker, who hit .483 in limited action after spending most of the year recovering from a broken foot.

At 12-6, Sand Creek is the No. 16-seeded team.

The champion of Friday’s Regionial in Englewood will advance to next week’s Class 4A state semifinals.

That game will be played at All-Star Park in Lakewood on Friday, May17.


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