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RANGELY — It may be January, but baseball season is almost here.
The sounds of the season can be heard already at the Early Education Center gym, where the Colorado Northwestern Community College team takes daily batting practice.
“We can’t hit outside now; it’s just too cold,” said Coach Tom Cassera.
CNCC will head for warmer weather when it opens the season this weekend for the two-day Coyote Border Battle in Henderson, Nev., near Las Vegas. The event is hosted by the College of Southern Nevada, the 2008 Region XVIII champion.
Cassera said the Spartans are a rebuilding program and will have to work up to the level of a Southern Nevada or Western Nevada College, another top team in the Scenic West Athletic Conference.
“We probably need a full year of brainwashing,” Cassera said. “I don’t think we have that mentality yet, like the College of Southern Nevada that had five kids drafted last year, or Western Nevada College that has five kids that can throw over 90 mph.”
There’s nowhere for the Spartans to go but up. CNCC finished at the bottom of the league last year with with a 6-34 record and its coach left.
Enter Cassera, who coached high school baseball in his home state of Maryland for 15 years and spent eight years as the coach at Montgomery College in Germantown, Md.
He’s had his work cut out for him. He’s been busy making improvements to the field (thanks to gifts from donors), recruiting players and, overall, changing the culture of the program.
“This place has been so neglected,” Cassera said. “But it’s truly a giving place. We’re starting to look like a Division I program.”
Among the contributors to the program are Williams Energy, which donated a new backstop at the CNCC ballpark, and a local couple, Julius and Lomell Poole, who gave $2,100 toward the banner program.
After the Border Battle tournament, which starts Friday, the Spartans will leave Feb. 4 for more warmer temperatures in Arizona.
“We’ll call it our southern trip,” Cassera said. “That really starts our season.”
The trip will include games in Mesa, Glendale and Phoenix.
The Spartans started out the fall with 45 players. They are down to 30. Not that that’s a bad thing, Cassera said.
“They kind of weeded themselves out,” he said. “We pride ourselves on that. I didn’t cut anybody.”
Of the 30 players on the roster, 25 are freshman and five are sophomores. There’s one Rangely player on the roster: freshman Stephen Boleng.
“He’s one of our catchers,” Cassera said. “We love having him. He’s learning a lot.”
Another freshman, Tom Gilchrist, from Cassera’s home state of Maryland, is expected to be one of the Spartans’ top pitchers and hitters.
“He will be our closer,” Cassera said. “He’s also our main outfielder and our best power hitter. He’s all of 6-3, 190, and he throws about 90 mph. He’s about the best we’ve got.”
It’s early — no games have been played yet — but Cassera likes the way his young team is coming together.
“The strength is the team unity,” he said. “We truly are a group that is learning to trust. These guys are relentless in their workouts. They are truly giving me all they’ve got.”