The Pagosa Springs High School Pirate baseball team faced a number of challenges in its first weekend of action at the Grand Tournament in Moab, Utah — including playing on a field and pitching off a real mound for the first time this season— and came out of it all with a 1-3 record.
The Pirates’ first game of the season pitted them against the Emery High School Spartans of Castle Dale, Utah, a team in Utah’s equivalent of Colorado’s 5A classification.
With the help of sophomore pitcher Brayden Bolotis, the Spartans routed the Pirates 16-0 in a five-inning no-hitter. Of the 15 outs afforded to the Pirates in the shortened game (due to the mercy rule), 13 were strikeouts.
“Game one was one of the finest pitchers in Utah,” said Pirates’ first-year head coach Dave Close, “but we’re not making excuses.”
In the weekend’s (and day’s) second game, against the Grand County High School Devils, of Moab (a school district similar in size to Archuleta County’s), the Pirates took a 6-2 lead in to the bottom of the seventh, thanks in part to triples by sophomore Austin DeVooght and senior Jared Burch.
Despite the late lead, the Devils scored two in the bottom of the seventh to win the game, 7-6.
Though a loss, Close felt the game was a step up and a reason for optimism. “We felt pretty good about that,” he said.
The Pirates again faced Emery in their third game of the round-robin tournament, falling 8-3 to the Spartans.
The Pirates took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth inning, where they found themselves on the wrong end of an eight-run rally they were unable to match.
Coming off of three losses thus far in the two days, game four brought some redemption for Pagosa against Grand.
Pagosa added a run to the board in the top of the first, but the bulk of the Pirate offense came in the second and third innings.
In the second, Pagosa was able to string together three hits and three walks to push five across the plate, extending the lead to 5-0.
Similarly, on another run of three hits and three walks, the Pirates added another five runs to the board in the third, leading the Devils 10-0. The Devils crossed the plate three times in the bottom of the inning.
Both teams continued scoring runs over the next four innings, with the Pirates defeating Grand by a final score of 16-6.
“We played much better,” Close said, adding that he felt the players were getting used to pitching off hills (versus in the high school parking lot and gym) and to being outside, on a field.
At the plate
• The Pirates were outscored in the tournament 37-25, with Pagosa averaging 6.25 runs scored per game and the opponents averaging 9.25 runs per game.
• Pagosa’s 25 runs were scored on only 18 hits, with an overall team batting average of .194 for the weekend.
• Multiple Pirates recorded three or more hits on the weekend. Freshman Koby Close had five hits in 13 at bats, while Burch had three hits in seven at bats and senior Paul Hoffman had three hits in nine at bats. Hoffman also scored six runs.
• DeVooght’s performance in the leadoff spot pleased Close, with DeVooght tallying six walks and two hits in 12 plate appearances — the best on-base percentage of the weekend for Pagosa players. DeVooght also scored three runs.
• The Pirates recorded 26 walks, while falling victim to the strikeout 35 times.
In the field
• In the four games, Pagosa chalked up nine errors, which Close said is “pretty darn good” considering the weekend was the team’s first chance of the season to play on a proper baseball field.
Next, the Pirates will head to Cortez March 18-20 for three games as part of a tournament, with games for both the varsity and junior varsity teams.
Before the games, the coach hopes to improve in some key areas (and, through a planned stop at a sporting goods store on the way to Cortez, to ensure that some of those new to the team are able to buy baseball shoes by game time).
“We have to improve in two really important areas,” said Close. “We need to start making more contact with the ball and not striking out so much. If you don’t make contact with the ball, you don’t have a chance.”
Close also they are working on pitching with the entire team. “We’re trying to make as many pitchers as we can. At some point, you’re going to need them,” he said.
In addition to possibly seeing new pitching for the Pirates, Close will continue to adjust the combination of players to hit the field.
“Practice isn’t realistic,” he said, adding that games are a test situation because, by practicing in a gym or parking lot, there’s no mound, the team is unable to scrimmage, the batters never see live pitching, and pitchers never see live batting.
“Unless this stuff (the snow covering the baseball field) melts, we’re going to lose some balls” hitting off of live pitching in the parking lot, Close said.