GRAND JUNCTION — The sophomore slump is over.
Moffat County’s Bryan Rich-ards was suffering from the proverbial second-year slump through the first seven games of the season. On Saturday, he struck out 10 batters in six innings on the mound and went 2-for-4 with a home run and a double in the first game of a doubleheader against Palisade.
The performance helped the Bulldogs to a 9-5 win in the first game, and they carried the momentum to a 10-6 win in game two.
“I worked a lot this week on things,” Richards said. “I was just trying to put everything out of my mind and play well.”
After his first inning on the mound — a three-up, three-down performance — Bulldog assistant coach Junior Herndon told the other coaches, “It looks like a night-and-day difference.”
Herndon’s remark referenced Richards’ outing two weekends ago against Delta, when he gave up seven runs in four innings.
On Saturday, the lefty sophomore cruised through the first two innings, but the third inning wasn’t so smooth. He loaded the bases on walks, and Palisade sophomore Jordan Gunther hit a two-out, three-run triple to punish Richards for his lack of control. Two more runs would score in the inning to give Palisade a 5-1 lead.
“I started to second-guess too much,” Richards said.
Moffat started to chip at the lead in the fourth.
Junior Reid Hanneman cranked a solo home run over the left field fence, and junior Bryan Wojtkiewicz had an RBI triple to cut Palisade’s lead to 5-3.
Richards kept Palisade off the board with a 1-2-3 inning, and then he went to work at the plate.
He hit a RBI triple in the fifth that sailed deep to straightaway center field. The spot where he hit it was more than 400 feet from home plate.
“He crushed that one,” coach Scott Parker said. “That showed he was done struggling.”
Hanneman followed that hit with another towering fly ball that missed going out of the field by three or four feet. Instead of going out, it turned into a RBI double.
Sophomore Brad Grinstead then gave the Bulldogs their first lead since the first inning with an RBI double.
Richards went to the mound in the fifth with a 6-5 lead and a big smile. He gave his teammates something to smile about with another 1-2-3 domination, which included two strikeouts.
Moffat added another run in the sixth with senior Jared Lowther’s two-out, RBI single.
After keeping Palisade off the board again in the sixth, Rich—ards added insurance to his chance for a win. He screamed a line drive over the right field fence for his second home run of the season.
Sophomore Billy Ivy added another RBI, and Lowther came in to shut down Palisade in the seventh for the save.
The meat of the lineup for Moffat provided most of the offense in the win. Hanneman, Richards and Lowther were responsible for seven of the nine runs. Wojtkiewicz, Grinstead and the aforementioned three each batted at least .500 against junior pitcher Cory Swetnam.
“The top of the line up is hitting the ball well for us,” coach Scott Parker said.
In game two, Palisade didn’t give Richards anything to hit by walking him three times, but the batters around him produced. Wojtkiewicz had a three-run triple in the third, and Moffat dug out of a 4-2 hole in the first for the win.
Senior Erik Griffin gave up four unearned runs in the first. Wojtkiewicz came on to pitch in the second with the bases loaded. He forced a double-play ground ball to get his team out of the jam. Moffat took the lead for good off of Wojtkiewicz’s triple.
“We were able to stop the bleeding when we needed to,” Parker said. “Palisade couldn’t do that, and it made the difference.”
Sophomore Billy Ivy relieved Wojtkiewicz in the third and gave up one run in four innings. Lowther closed out the seventh inning just as he did in the first game.
The Bulldogs are 3-2 in the league and 6-3 overall. This week, they have Steamboat Springs on Tuesday and a doubleheader against Rifle on Saturday. All three games are in Craig.
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