Play ball: Moffat County baseball squeezes in home opener with Steamboat after multiple early season delays
Mother Nature has kept the members of the Moffat County High School baseball program limited in field access as the season has begun this month, but thanks to parental efforts, Bulldogs are finally getting things underway.
MCHS took their lumps Thursday in a home opener against rival Steamboat Springs, with Sailors sweeping the doubleheader 13-1 and 10-2.
The set of games marked only the second day the Dogs were able to utilize the diamond at Craig Middle School. The games were originally scheduled for Tuesday, though the location was still not quite playable after recent waves of precipitation.
Bulldog coach Brian Jennings noted that if not for the volunteer efforts of team parents, the sloppy state of the field from excess moisture might not have been cleared.
“We had a lot of them working hard, wanting to see the kids play. They really got it done for us,” he said. “That’s Northwest Colorado baseball for you.”
MoCo started the day with Drake Doherty on the mound, and the Dogs held Steamboat scoreless in the opening two innings, taking an early lead as Hunter Smilanich earned an RBI with Connor Murphy crossing the plate for the first run of the season.
The Sailors rallied in the third inning, adding six more entries on the scoreboard.
Doherty gained four strikeouts and was relieved at the start of the fourth by freshman Daniel Running, who added one K but ran into similar struggles by the fifth, as Steamboat collected three more runs leading up to the Sailors’ highlight of the day when Tanner Ripley knocked one over the left field fence with two men on base to put it at 12-1.
With a 10-run mercy rule win looking likely, Steamboat quickly shut down MoCo’s hopes of a comeback to end the game early.
“I think we had a lot of first-game jitters,” Murphy said. “We came out hot, but we kind of unraveled from there.”
Steamboat started swiftly in the accompanying round, with two runs in the first inning and four in the second to set the tone.
Sailor batters worked their way through three Bulldog pitchers, as Jennings cycled in Greg Hixson, Ryan Peck and Smilanich, the three of them combining for five strikeouts. Unfortunately, they also had 13 batters get on base by walk.
Jennings noted that pitchers will shed some of their rust in the coming weeks, and though Steamboat’s offense was where it needed to be for them, the Dogs’ defense in the infield didn’t disappoint, as Hixson and Murphy excelled in tandem at shortstop and second base, Carson Miller got it done at third base, and catcher Krece Papierski aggressively pursued every pop-up.
“We told them it’s about pitching, hitting and fielding, and we did one of those three tonight,” Jennings said. “If you can play good, solid defense, hitting and pitching will come. You see it in the big leagues early in the season, hitters struggle more than pitchers. Once we find more ways to score the ball, we’ll be fine.”
MCHS baseball will host a junior varsity series Monday against Steamboat, while varsity plays April 2 on the road against Battle Mountain in Edwards.
Bulldogs have had multiple postponements thus far — including games with Rangely and Aspen — all while fielding a young roster.
With only three seniors and an abundance of freshmen and sophomores suiting up, Jennings said he expects players and coaches to keep learning this season, hopefully more so as they have more outdoor access after weeks of indoor practices.
“They work really, really hard, day in and day out, and it’s a pleasure to work with guys who want to work like that,” he said.
A blend of Northwest Colorado imagery and splashy colors now greets Craig drivers and pedestrians.