College baseball: Geckos get last laugh, win league title
EL JEBEL — The Vail Vipers summer college baseball team made things pretty dang difficult for Glenwood Springs in Saturday’s Mountain West Summer Collegiate Baseball League title game. But thanks to the season they’ve gone through, the Geckos wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Jason Galeano’s two-run, bases-loaded infield single brought home the tying and winning runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, helping Glenwood win the league’s first championship with a 9-8 victory over the Vipers at Crawford Memorial Field.
“I told these guys from the first week we were together that we were good enough to be the best team in the league,” Geckos coach Mark Goodman said. “We sure didn’t start out great and were on the bottom of the barrel, but I had faith in these guys from the moment I saw them.”
That faith helped turn things around for Glenwood (17-12), which finished the season with seven consecutive victories and 14 wins in their final 15 games. That came following a 2-8 start for a team of 14 players and two coached who, before the first game of the season in early June, was crammed into a hotel room in Eagle before some local host families stepped forward.
After that, things clicked enough for the Geckos to take them from the league’s worst team to its best all in one season.
“We have a bunch of soldiers on this team,” Galeano said. “No matter what place we were in this year, we always came out here to battle and have fun. So to go from last place to second and then come through the tournament to win it is just crazy.”
Nearly making a crazy comeback near the end of the game was Vail (16-18), which came into the six-team, double-elimination tournament as the fifth seed but still managed to reach Saturday’s title game. The Vipers, who needed to win twice Saturday to claim the league title, nearly forced a second game when their seven-run sixth inning gave them an 8-7 lead.
Vail wasn’t able to score again, and Galeano’s go-ahead single in the bottom of the inning put the Geckos ahead to stay.
“We were talking about this last night,” Vail coach Dave Weber said. “We eliminated four teams and won four elimination games. That’s pretty cool. It’s fun. And this whole season … coaching all of these guys was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”
For a while, it didn’t look like any baseball would be played on Saturday. A storm cell that moved through Carbondale early in the day left standing water on the Ron Patch Memorial Field infield, making that field unplayable. The game was moved to Crawford Field and got halfway through the bottom of the first inning before the skies opened again, prompting a one-hour rain delay. It wasn’t until the rain had tapered off and a host family had run back to Carbondale to get some quick dry field dirt for the muddy, mucky pitcher’s mound that play could be resumed.
Lane Larronde had a pair of doubles, and Tanner Nieslanik’s RBI single in the bottom of the first inning gave the Geckos an early 3-0 lead after play resumed for good. Chase Venalde and Brett Mamnegra each had a pair of hits, and Jimmy Short’s two-run double in the top of the sixth inning capped the Vipers’ seven-run frame and gave them an 8-7 lead.
Glenwood bounced back in the bottom of the sixth, though. Jake Ekstrom drew a one-out walk and was replaced by speedy pinch runner Robert Silvestre, who moved to second on an errant pickoff throw by the pitcher Short and moved to third after an errant throw to second by first baseman Hunter Jensen. Short then walked Larronde and Will Ray to load the bases.
Up came Galeano, who hit a hard grounder to the right side of Vipers shortstop Gunner Peterson. The shortstop wasn’t able to field the ball cleanly, however, and Silvestre and Larronde scored on the play to give Glenwood the lead for good.
“I honestly saw a hole in between third base and shortstop,” Galeano said. “I wasn’t worried. I didn’t hit it that hard, but I hit it hard enough that I knew it was either going to be a really hard play to make or it was going to make it through.”
Goodman brought in Bryce Johnson to close out the game — the pitcher who was going to start if there was a second game on Saturday. But after setting down the first two Vail batters, Vanalde singled and Mamnegra walked to put the potential tying and winning runs on first base.
Johnson, however, got Alex Campbell to ground out to third base. It touched off the Geckos’ wild postgame celebration, where Johnson was on the bottom of the dogpile.
“That was a lot of fun, except that someone’s arm got in under my rib and I couldn’t breathe,” Johnson said, laughing.
Lucas Lantrip, who pitched 2/3 of an inning in place of starter Anthony Race, earned the pitching victory for Glenwood. Short took the loss in relief of Vail starter Matt Sweeney, who allowed five earned runs and six hits in four innings.
The Geckos, whose roster is made up mostly of junior college players, has five players who will play at the four-year college level next year. One of them, Ray, has visited with Colorado Mesa University coach Chris Hanks and is scheduled to visit the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley today.
And next year, Goodman said the team will likely fly the Carbondale flag instead of Glenwood since the team played most of its games there anyway.
“I already know next year is going to be a lot of fun,” Goodman said.
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