Ivan Nielsen didn’t falter when the American Legion Post 62 baseball team needed him Wednesday, including in pressure situations.
With two Coal Ridge players on base in the second inning, and one run having already scored, Nielsen struck out the Coal Ridge batter to get the Bulldogs out of the inning relatively unscathed.
Although early in the game, a Coal Ridge hit could have altered the outcome of Wednesday’s contest at Craig Middle School for the Bulldogs.
But, Nielsen was too tough on the hill.
The incoming senior allowed two runs and threw 96 pitches in a complete game to pick up the victory, 9-2.
“I had a bad inning and I walked a few guys, but my defense provided good back-up,” Nielsen said. “We started the game with four runs in the first, so that allowed me to go out and have fun.”
The Bulldogs (2-6 overall) took advantage of wild pitches from Coal Ridge to score two of their three runs in the bottom of the second to make the score 7-1.
Incoming junior Bubba Ivers scored three runs on the day.
Head coach Justin Folley said the team’s top hitters, including Ivers, Nielsen, Carlos Maldonado and Wyatt Oberwitte, provided the boost the Bulldogs needed at the plate.
“Our first five are some of the strongest batters in the area,” he said. “They were able to get on base and the others took care of them by either bunting or hitting the other way.”
Folley said Nielsen had a strong, consistent game with pitches thrown for strikes or to make contact after struggling to find his rhythm early.
Help from the defense didn’t hurt either, Folley said.
With a Coal Ridge player on first base in the third inning, the ball was popped into shallow center field. Incoming junior Trevor Kroese tracked the ball down, made a diving catch and threw out the runner at first from his seat.
“The defense did a great job and only had one error with an awkward bounce by the shortstop,” Folley said. “Trevor had a great diving play and helped keep runs off the board.”
The Bulldogs’ struggles early in the season were the product of an inexperienced team.
With two incoming eighth-graders, two incoming freshman and a couple of incoming sophomores, Nielsen said the inexperience hurt at some points, but taking the lumps now will pay off in the long run.
“The younger guys don’t have as much experience as me and the older players, so sometimes it could hurt us,” he said. “But, in the future, and even come spring, we are going to have a strong team now and for years to come.”
Folley said the teaching experience with the younger players is different than the older players.
“We get the satisfaction of working with the younger guys and start from scratch,” he said. “The older guys, it is more about fine tuning, so we get to see these other players grow and break down the fundamentals.”
While the team has fluctuated in numbers due to injuries and vacations, Folley said all the players have put in hard work.
“Hitting comes with seeing pitches and not so much (batting practice) and defensively, they have made huge improvements,” he said. “The younger guys, especially, were hesitant at the plate, which comes with not seeing a high school pitcher before, but they have made the adjustments themselves and come a long way.”
The Bulldogs will play a doubleheader Saturday at Glenwood Springs before hosting Steamboat Springs on July 16 at CMS.
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