One glance at the starting lineup of this year's Moffat County High School varsity baseball team and one thing becomes clear, they lose a lot of players to graduation this season. That makes the role of the JV team even more important.
"The most important thing is that we get them repetitions at the high school level," said coach Jake Martinez of his JV squad. "The more we can give the younger kids a chance, the better off they'll be next year."
The Bulldogs won four games at the JV level this year but what was more important than the Ws for Martinez was the progression of his players.
"At the beginning of the season, we were hesitant to play some of the younger guys in the varsity games," he said. "But later in the season, they moved up to prove they could play at that level."
In the final regular season game, JV regulars sophomore Caleb Keadle and junior Barrett Durham were in the starting lineup. They join freshman Bryan Wojtkiewicz, sophomore Matt Guinn, freshman Reid Hanneman and junior Jody Moncrief on the varsity roster for the state playoffs.
"We expect the younger guys to contribute if we're going to do well in the playoffs," Martinez said.
One aspect that Martinez said his players brought to the diamond every day was fight.
"In nearly every game we were behind, the team fought back," he said. "That group had a lot of fight, which is something you can't coach."
One advantage this group of players will enjoy that most of the seniors didn't have will be a summer baseball program. The underclassmen will be competing in an 18-and-under league in the summer as well as several tournaments. This will be the first summer program in three years for Moffat County.
"I think that one of our strengths will be that we've played together as a team a lot," Durham said. "Coach said we might get up to 40 games together this summer."
In addition to the traveling team, Martinez and head coach Scott Parker hope to entice former Bulldogs to get their gloves out of the closet and come to the ballpark. They hope to have their team play Monday nights against MCHS alumni who want to get back on the diamond.
At least for Wojtkiewicz the time at the plate this summer will help him adjust to the breaking ball.
"It's important to get used to the varsity level curve ball," he said. "They're a little bit better than what most of us have seen."
Learning to hit the curve and playing together this summer will only help a team that has several big spots to fill next year.
"The next season depends a lot on the summer," Martinez said. "Everyone will have to earn their spots next year and we'll see