By John Hanson
Special to the Herald Times
RBC | As 10-year-old right fielder Quentin Kramer from Rifle circled under the fly ball and squeezed it in his glove for the final out, one would have thought he had caught lightning in a bottle.
With that final out the young 8-10 All-Stars of the Colorado River Valley (Little League secured their first ever District 1 Championship, beating the select team from Monument Little League 20-13 at Orchard Mesa Fairgrounds in Grand Junction.
CRV sailed through the winner’s bracket with three straight dominating performances to earn a berth in the championship against Monument, who had battled back through the loser’s bracket, including a win against defending champion Fruita.
Unlike most select teams built with players and coaches from the same town who are familiar with each other’s abilities and personalities, the 13 young men of Colorado River Valley come from throughout the western range: Rangely, Meeker, Rifle, Silt and New Castle. The same goes for the coaching staff. Head coach Matt Magnusson and one assistant, Matt LaRoque, hail from Rifle. The other assistant, Erik Slade, is from New Castle. Not only did the staff have a short time to gel, but, more importantly, they had an even shorter time to mold a team…and that they did.
“My biggest concern was taking a group of boys that had carried their teams during the season and find out if they could learn to trust each other,” stated coach Slade.
Trusting in each other was evident from the start. CRV came out aggressively in their first game last Monday night against Grand Mesa Little League. Shortstop Jakson Slade (New Castle) ignited the team with a two run triple to stake out a lead for starter and eventual winner, George Roberts from Silt. Getting hits up and down the line-up, the CRV boys added eight more runs while only giving up two, winning 12-2 in four innings.
Game Two opponent Three Rivers Little League from Glenwood Springs promised to be a tougher foe. Yet, as if on demand, the top of the CRV batting order of Robby Magnusson (Rifle), Kramer, Slade, Roberts and Mason Markovitch (New Castle), exploded for a nine run lead after three innings. Three Rivers hung in there and slowly rallied back to score five in their half of the fifth to draw within three runs, trailing only 11-8 after five innings. But a huge seven run rally by CRV in the top of the sixth squelched any comeback dreams of the Three Rivers side, with CRV going on to win 18-8. Slade was the winning pitcher for CRV going three innings for the win and only giving up four runs.
Thursday, June 29 will forever go down as “Juan Pablo Night” after Juan Pablo Olivas (Rifle) pitched an amazing five inning one-hitter against the Delta All-Stars to put CRV in the championship. Having enjoyed a day off, CRV appeared eager and ready to go. On tune, they jumped out to another two run lead to start the game with another triple from Slade to drive in Magnusson. That would be all Olivas would need as he kept the Delta boys off balance all night. In his five innings of pitching, Juan Pablo gave up one hit, no runs, four strikeouts, and, amazingly, no walks. He did not even go to three balls on any Delta batter. Meanwhile, CRV saw production from up and down the line up, most notably with Edwin Villalpando (Meeker) and Kramer coming off the bench to combine for five RBIs in a big eight run fifth inning rally to seal a dominate 14-0 victory over Delta.
Saturday’s championship game between the ragtag crew from CRV and the local Monument All-Stars had everything needed for a nail-biter. It looked initially as if CRV was going to walk away with a blowout win as they started the game with five straight hits from Magnusson, Aaron Winkler (Rangely), Slade, Markovitch, and Roberts. After an out, the bottom of the order of Landon Carlson (Rangely), Colton Lemus (Rangely), and Finley Deming (Meeker) continued the rally and by the end of their first at bats CRV had gone up 8-0. But unlike their first three games the starting pitching would be inconsistent. Game One winner Roberts got the start but could only go one and 2/3 innings before giving way to Game Two winner Slade who did not fare much better with Monument clawing back to within two after two innings. Things appeared to start going CRV’s way in the top of the third as they scored two on a home run to right by Slade, but Monument persevered and chased Slade in the bottom of the inning. Magnuson was brought in for a couple of batters, but struggled and was replaced by Skylar Browning (Meeker) who found the strike zone and got CRV out of the inning, but not before Monument had tied the score 11-11. Faced with their first real test of the tournament, the boys from CRV came roaring back with strong at bats from the lower half of the order. Once again Villalpando, Kramer, Browning, and Deming all worked to get on base and scored giving CRV a five run lead as Monument came to bat in the bottom of the 4th, hoping to build on their momentum.
Browning walked the first batter for Monument, bringing up Monuments number two hitter who at this point of the game had either driven in or scored 4 runs. But with one swing of the bat you could feel the momentum shift as the batter lined a ball back up the middle, only to have it snagged by shortstop Slade going to his left, who then stepped on second and threw to first for a quick double play. Although Browning walked the next batter, he came back with a strike out to end the inning and Monument never threatened again.
Browning would stay in to get the win and watch as Kramer secured the final out to send CRV to their first ever state tournament.
As the team unwound itself from the noisy, celebratory pig pile, coach Slade commented, “I was surprised by our pitchers’ ability to perform throughout the tournament. We have some real depth here that can really help us at the next round (state).” That and some lightning in a bottle…
The state tournament will be played in Thornton starting July 22. According to Emily Hisel, CRV information officer, this is the first time CRV has sent an 8-10-year-old team to the state tournament. The last time a baseball team went to the state tournament was in 2009 when the junior boys (13-14 year olds) represented District 1, and then 2013 and 2014 junior girls softball teams also competed at the state level.
CRV would like to thank Columbine Ford for sponsoring the 50/70 team and Clough Energy for sponsoring the 9-11 team. There will be additional costs associated with sending teams past the district tournaments. CRV is a non-profit organization, and will need help with these costs. If anyone would like to donate please contact President Ryan Harlow at 970-404-0359.
By John Hanson