After explosive 2021 season, Moffat County baseball looks to keep momentum
For the Craig Press
The 2021 spring was one of the best seasons Moffat County High School baseball has ever seen. So what’s the only logical goal to set going into a new year in the sport?
The answer: Doing it all over again, and hopefully going all the further.
Bulldog players and coaches have wasted no time getting ready for this spring, hard at work to get athletes’ skills at their peak, doing so even as their home diamond is as yet unavailable.
With the field at Craig Middle School still covered in slowly melting snow, the team has made good use of the MCHS gym.
“It’s all you can really do, play gym ball this time of year. It’s not really baseball, but it’s a lot of the fundamental stuff these guys need, especially these younger guys — older guys too,” said head coach Brian Jennings. “These are the great weeks to be like, ‘Hey, here’s the way we do things, and if you do that, you’ll be alright.’”
The facility allows for hitting and pitching capabilities, though being indoors is still a bit of a limitation.
“Throwing distance is a problem; we can’t really practice outfield stuff, like 200 feet,” Jennings said. “With the light in here, they can’t see very well, so that’s why we have to use a yellow ball.”
MoCo players were originally scheduled to compete at a Rifle-hosted tournament this past weekend, but the lingering cold weather also pushed the Bulldogs’ first game until March 25 against Battle Mountain.
With this week being spring break, Jennings said the hiatus might prove cumbersome, though he’s not too concerned as long as players are ready to work like they did last year.
Last spring saw the Bulldogs make the most of a short schedule that extended into the summer by capturing a long-awaited 3A Western Slope League championship as part of their 15-3 record.
Despite some heavy hitters graduating, Jennings is only focusing on the returning talent.
“We’re reloading this year, a lot of big players who came through for us last year,” he said.
Among a packed roster are seniors Ryan Peck, Carson Miller, Derrick Squires and Daniel Running.
Peck maintained a .529 batting average and a .960 slugging percentage last season, according to MaxPreps, which included four home runs, one of which was a grand slam. That helped Peck to stand as the leader among all the Dogs in runs batted in with 33.
Squires batted .500 with a knack for doubles, with 10, earning 17 RBIs; Running hit .442 with 16 RBIs; and Miller hit .395 with 14 RBIs, including one homer.
Miller also led the team in getting on base in other ways, with 15 walks and nine bean balls.
All four seniors also had pitching experience last year for at least one inning, with Squires’ 3.00 earned run average complemented by 43 strikeouts. Peck had a 4.20 ERA with 32 K’s.
Besides several strong seniors, juniors Cort Murphy, Easton Eckroth, Marcos Romero, Easton Briggs and more also bring their prowess to this year’s squad.
Jennings is expecting the conference to be no less competitive, with MCHS the victor of a tie in the rankings with Gunnison last season. MoCo split doubleheaders with both the Cowboys and Delta but gained the title thanks to allowing the least amount of runs in league play.
Still, there’s no telling exactly what’s to come from the opposition this spring.
“Gunnison graduated some seniors, but I’m not sure how their younger guys are looking. Basalt made it really far into the playoffs and were pretty flashy with a lot of sophomores,” Jennings said. “Delta had five starting freshmen to play us last year and we split, so it’s gonna be a good game this year. It’ll be a really exciting conference for these guys, should be good for them.”
A new addition to the league is North Fork, the combined forces of Paonia and Hotchkiss.
“We played Paonia a few years ago, and they had some studs. I’ve heard good things about Hotchkiss, too, so I’m sure combining them is only gonna help,” Jennings said.
Since he took on the mantle of head coach in 2018, Jennings has seen athletes evolve a great deal.
“All these kids now have had a lot of longevity. They’ve grown into men and great baseball players,” he said.
As a result, he and his fellow coaches have only the highest of expectations.
“The goal is always a state championship. The beginning of the year, that’s always what we plan on doing,” Jennings said. “If you’re going for anything less, why are you doing it?”
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The end of another school year at Moffat County High School means it’s that time again to highlight the best senior student-athletes as part of the Lewis “Dude” Dent Memorial Awards Ceremony.