Moffat County baseball sweeps Coal Ridge in stellar season opener

Andy Bockelman
For the Craig Press
Bulldog Josh McCourt winds up a pitch against Coal Ridge on Saturday. Andy Bockelman / for the Craig Press

With a shutout victory behind them and holding a 4-2 lead late in their second game Saturday, Moffat County High School baseball players were feeling confident to say the least.

And, when senior Krece Papierski blasted one over the left-center field fence, that excitement only grew all the more as Bulldogs faced the promise of a great season.

MCHS swept the Coal Ridge Titans with 9-0 and 7-4 wins in the doubleheader that served as their season opener at the Craig Middle School field.

The Titans already had one big W under their belt, annihilating Grand Valley 26-0 via mercy rule in a May 5 game.

Still, Coal Ridge found a different level of competition when they came to Craig, as the Dogs truly came to play.

It was slow progress as the first run of the season didn’t come until the fourth inning, yet a rally in the fifth saw seven runs.

Junior Derrick Squires pitched the full first game, earning 11 strikeouts, walking only one batter, and nearly achieving a no-hitter as the Titans earned one single.

“He’s a lefty who came here from Laramie two years ago, and then we didn’t get to play last year,” said head coach Brian Jennings, adding that he had multiple transfer students join the team shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the 2020 season. “Now we’re finally getting to see what they can do.”

Every member of the Bulldog lineup got on base at least once, whether through their bat — including four doubles out of their seven total hits — or via other methods, as Coal Ridge pitchers racked up seven walks and beaned four Bulldog batters.

“They really just put balls in play and made things happen,” Jennings said of team’s offense.

Heading into the second game of the day, the energy shifted a bit, as did the weather, moving from sunny yet cloudy to fully gray. The Titans crossed the plate twice in the first inning, but as a light rain picked up, so did the Dogs’ determination.

“Baseball is such a momentum sport, and when you go down 2-0, it’s very easy to roll over and die,” he said. “We were more fired up than ever to get back and start fighting again.”

After getting on base after being hit by a pitch, Papierski took advantage of fielding errors to steal second, third and home to get MoCo their first run of the game.

Junior Carson Miller took the brunt of bad pitches in the second game, beaned three times, but he couldn’t complain when he barreled his way off third base, with the first steal of home a head-first slide over the plate to tie it at 2-2 in the third inning.

And, senior Greg Spears was right behind to take the lead moments later.

“It says a lot about this team’s character and how they play this game,” Jennings said of the sudden turnaround.

Junior Ryan Peck started the second game on the mound, throwing for four innings and picking up five strikeouts before being replaced by senior Josh McCourt, who picked up one K despite giving up two runs in the sixth inning.

Still, at that point, it was Moffat County’s game to lose, given Papierski’s homer in the fifth.

After being beaned on three occasions during the two games, a low-and-outside pitch was a welcome change for the Bulldog slugger, and he didn’t hesitate to swing away, driving in Squires, McCourt and himself for three RBIs.

“I was just playing my game, man,” Papierski said. “Taking it play by play.”

Jennings said he wasn’t at all surprised with Papierski’s round-tripper, knowing he had the power but only needed the right window.

“We’ve been watching all these guys do that these last two months of practice. They know what they’re capable of,” he said.

Before going back in the dugout, Papierski also took the opportunity to pound a ceremonial hammer on the ground, a new tradition for the team to celebrate home runs.

As the team’s regular catcher, he credited the string of pitchers with getting the job done defensively.

“We’re all one big family, and we all really have a great connection,” he said. “We’re gonna do something special this season. We’re all fired up to be together on the field again.”

Senior Hunter Smilanich closed the game, ending the day with a grounder right to the mound that he whipped to Peck, who had replaced him at first base.

“Hunter’s great in all places, but I think that role right there at the end of the game to come in and throw hard,” Jennings said. “As long as he puts fastballs over the plate, he’ll be alright.”

All told, the statistical tally was 17 strikeouts for MoCo pitchers between the two games, while Bulldog batters and baserunners compiled 14 hits, 14 stolen bases, and 13 RBIs.

The 2-0 start is one Jennings expects will energize the team as they make their way through the schedule, including Tuesday in Rifle and Thursday at Meeker, both of which will be JV and varsity games, with another varsity doubleheader set for May 15 in Aspen.

“Any day you can win two games, you gotta be happy,” he said.

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