RANGELY I The journey to a state championship may have been cut short for the Colorado River Valley All-Stars this season, but its lessons have already carried the players beyond the scope of fast-pitch softball.
The 13-member group, known as the American Legion team during the regular season, was made up of four Rangely, six Meeker, one New Castle and two Rifle players, most of whom have competed together now for two years.
The team certainly competed. Not only did they go 13-3 last season and 20-1 this regular season, they outscored their opponents—most from towns many times larger than their own—by nearly three runs for every run batted in by the other team.
From the first, the team’s mission was not to draw dividing lines by town or county. It was never to prove Meeker was better than Rangely, or vice versa, or to show that Garfield County players were superior to Rio Blanco County ones.
It was simply to play well and to play together.
“It was so enjoyable to play softball,” coach Andy Shaffer said. “We started practicing together once before districts, then the last three or four times before state. But it was almost like they were practicing together nightly all season.”
The team not only got it together on the field. Over the last two years, kids and parents have turned town rivalries, which, in some cases, keep athletes and fans from really getting to know each other, into friendships.
“The teams made friends that just wouldn’t be there had we not done this,” Shaffer said. “Our kids spend the night at each other’s houses now. (Coach) Kelly (Brown) and I have friendships with parents from the other towns. They’re great people who have given us so much support.”
Until July 14, when the team’s postseason play came to an end, the towns hoped to have more games to share. But the American Legion team, which became the Colorado River Valley (CRV) All-Stars once district play began, won their first game at the state tournament, followed by two losses that ended their bid for the championship.
The team won the District 1 Fast Pitch Softball Championships in Grand Junction this month for the second consecutive year and had been playing 16-and-under teams from Glenwood Springs, Rifle, Grand Junction and Fruita all season. Competing against the Westminster All-Stars July 12 didn’t feel too different.
But this was state.
“This was a rematch of last year’s second game (at state), and they beat us last year,” coach Rick Dodds said. “It was great. Everybody was hitting, our pitching was great, the fielding was great.”
The CRV All-Stars beat Westminster handily in the first game, by a score of 15-4. Sunday morning’s game against the Pueblo All-Stars, however, was a different story.
The Western Slope team strung a few good hits together against their opponents, but the girls’ hitting was off throughout the game.
The real problem was they just couldn’t get anyone across home plate.
“They just had one of those bad days where they weren’t hitting,” Dodds said. “The defense was OK, it wasn’t the best. It started out slow and got better. We kept getting the kids to third base but couldn’t get that one score.
“I really think if we were to play those (Pueblo) kids 10 times, we would beat them five times,” he said. “That’s how it goes sometimes. When the pros play a series, they’ll win two and lose two. I think that could’ve been us.”
The loss placed the CRV All-Stars back in the consolation bracket and slated once again to play Westminster.
After its win on Saturday, the team was looking forward to the rematch and, members hoped, a bid for the championship title, which would have taken them to the Southwest Regional Tournament in Santa Fe, N.M., this weekend.
But after a 15-3 loss to Westminster on Monday, Dodds said he believed the team got ahead of itself mentally, thinking ahead to the championship instead of the game in front of them.
Shaffer agreed, adding that the hitting, for which the team was known throughout the season, was also lacking.
“We should’ve shown up at the right time, but we just weren’t there mentally,” he said. “But once again, it’s all about hitting, and our hitting was slow again. Most of the time throughout the year, once we started hitting, you couldn’t stop us.”
Next summer, Dodds, Brown and Shaffer plan for the girls to play in a 16-and-under travel league under the American Softball Association (ASA), which will heighten the level of regular-season competition in weekend tournaments on the Front Range and in Utah.
Until then, the lessons will keep teaching themselves.
“I think they learned that small-town girls can compete against big-city athletes,” Shaffer said. “Each year, they continually get stronger with their skills and ability. They were a young team. They only had two girls at the top of their age bracket.”
Dodds agreed, adding that even though the season has ended, friendships between players and parents continue to grow.