Roaring Fork baseball’s Dawson Kuhl leads Rams’ late charge
“He’s just a beast, man.”
That’s how Roaring Fork veteran head coach Marty Madsen described senior Dawson Kuhl prior to a recent practice at Ron Patch Memorial Field.
The stats back that up, too, for the senior standout, especially at the plate this season.
Kuhl, a stalwart in the 3-hole for the Rams’ baseball program, is hitting a team-leading .436 on the year with 24 hits (nine doubles, one triple, three home runs) and 22 runs batted in just 55 at-bats. Those gaudy numbers are good enough to rank in the top 5 in the 3A Western Slope League in nearly every category, which puts him on the same level with Delta’s Rowyn Carmichael and Coal Ridge’s Ryan Kotz, who also sit in the top 5 in nearly every offensive category in the league.
“When you told me about those numbers, my first reaction was that I’m not surprised,” said Madsen. “Dawson isn’t the biggest, strongest, or fastest, but he puts in the work and is committed to this game. When you do that, success will come. I’m just so happy to see him succeeding like this because he’s earned it.”
The talent has always been there for Kuhl, dating back to his freshman year,. But this year, in his final year with the Rams, Kuhl has ratcheted up his offensive output, being a workhorse in the middle of Roaring Fork’s lineup under Madsen.
“I put a lot of work in during the offseason,” said Kuhl. “I’d travel to Grand Junction every weekend to get work in at the indoor batting cage. That consistent work really helped me out.”
Kuhl certainly had the average last season when he hit .471 for the Rams, but this year the power has really developed for the big, burly, do-everything player for Roaring Fork. Some of that has to do with the development in the weight room, but Kuhl said a lot of it has to do with new Roaring Fork hitting coach Tanner Nieslanik, a former Roaring Fork player himself who went on to play college baseball at Colorado Mesa University.
“Last season, I was just trying to time up my swing and make contact,” said Kuhl. “I was just a big contact hitter looking to spray the ball all over the field. But this year, Tanner has come in and helped me see the inside half of the baseball, seeing the ball better overall.
“I’ve been trying to stay deep on the ball and see the ball deep into the zone. We worked on going oppo [opposite field] consistently. That’s where my power is, going to right-center. That’s been my specialty this year, and that’s where I’ve found my power source. It’s been a lot of fun going up to the plate this year.”
Fellow senior Layne Crisp has batted in front of Kuhl for most of his high school career, and most times Crisp benefits from Kuhl’s hits by scoring runs for the Rams. Being on the base paths when Kuhl is at the plate gives Crisp one of the best views in the ballpark for each at bat. While the extra-base power gets the headlines for Kuhl, Crisp says its something mostly unseen that has been the biggest difference in Kuhl’s production this year.
“He’s just so disciplined,” said Crisp. “Teams have tried to work around him, and he’s content taking a walk, which helps us out. But he makes guys come to him, and when he does that, you can put all of your faith in him as a hitter because we know he’s going to bring us home.”
“He’s quickly becoming that cerebral player that we’ve been hoping for,” added Madsen. “He knows he can probably hit every pitch thrown to him, but he’s just so smart and so disciplined, and it’s carried on through the rest of the lineup.”
The numbers are extraordinary for Kuhl, but that’s not even the biggest impact he’s made for the young Rams this season. The impact is one that can’t be measured with stats, and it’s one every team talks about needing: leadership.
Four years ago, Kuhl was that wide-eyed freshman trying to cut it at the varsity level. Now, he’s the varsity veteran setting an example for a roster filled with underclassmen in Carbondale.
“It’s been fun watching him grow, not only as a player, but as a young man,” said Madsen. “I’ve watched him grow up since my wife had him in Kindergarten. It’s pretty sweet to see all of the hard work, all of the days and hours he’s put in paying off. It shows all the young guys, that if you work your butt off, you’re going to have success.
“He’s really shown the young guys how to carry themselves,” added Madsen. “He shows the young guys how to have confidence in themselves; I wish I had him for another year to show the next group of freshman how to play at the varsity level.”
Kuhl and the Rams have just three games remaining in the season, highlighted by a doubleheader Thursday at Ron Patch Memorial Field in Carbondale in 3A Western Slope League action against the Grand Valley Cardinals.
The Rams need to win the three remaining games to have a shot at the 3A state playoffs.
With Kuhl in the lineup swinging a scorching-hot bat, anything is possible.
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PREP ROUNDUP: Rifle softball claims 4th straight 4A WSL championship; Coal Ridge volleyball tops Roaring Fork in 4 sets
Rifle softball won its fourth straight 4A Western Slope League championship thanks to a 15-5 win over Palisade Tuesday night at Taughenbaugh Field in Rifle, while the Coal Ridge Titans girls volleyball team picked up a 3-1 win over the Roaring Fork Rams in Carbondale.