Gunning for a state title downvalley with summer ball
Eagle Valley High School baseball can expect an influx of young talent soon. In part, they’ll have local, Triple Crown baseball teams to thank for it.In recent years, Triple Crown teams have sprung up in Eagle and Gypsum during the summer. Triple Crown is a national organization for club baseball. The short-term goal is to get kids playing more ball against quality competition. The long-term goal is to lay the foundation for a state championship for the Devils.Ed Coulter, Stan McClintock, Richard Van Dyke, Dave Pietrack, Robert Ellsworth and Paul Sabo are local baseball coaches – and dads. With the help of other local parents, they are trying to prepare players for the challenges of high school baseball. To get it done, they knew kids needed more playing time.”There’s a big difference for these kids playing just 15 – 20 games with WECMRD, and getting an additional 15 – 20 games playing Triple Crown,” said Sabo, who helps coach the under-11 team with Ellsworth. “Baseball is a game of repetition, and recognition of where you need to be on the field. More games means more awareness and presence.”Sticking together”I have been with some of these kids since WECMRD tee-ball,” said Coulter, who coaches the under-16 Eagle Valley Trojans team. “We have some great players coming up. Triple Crown lets them get out of town and see some different competition.”Some of the U-16 players, who have been together over the years, include Hunter Blevins, Paul Suther, Chance Long, Kevin Mansfield, Jacob Lammert, Jason Mirelez, Nick Whitehead, Herman Hogue and Tyler Conway. The leaders are Alex Dorothy and Bear Barkman, both of whom got time on the EVHS varsity team as sophomores, last year.
These guys continue to play together in Triple Crown and on the WECMRD Senior League All-Star Team. That builds continuity and a comfort level on the field with one another, said Steve Whitehead, who coaches the WECMRD Senior All-Stars.”Including their high school games, WECMRD, and Triple Crown, some of our older kids are going to get in 60 games this year,” said Whitehead. “They started out slow in Triple Crown, but in their last tournament they went two and two.”In that tournament – held over the Flight Days weekend – the Trojans hosted some of the best Triple Crown teams in the state. The increased level of competition led to some tough losses. But those make for a good learning experience, Coulter said, and they make the wins that much more gratifying.”Early on, the team suffered through a stretch where they lost a number of games by small margins,” said Coulter. “In many of those games it was just one or two miscues that cost them the game. This is a process they are going through. It will make them better.”It’s the mind that mattersCoulter and the other coaches earmarked defense and mental toughness as areas where their teams have the most room for improvement. The routine plays have to be made, and the mistakes kept to a minimum to compete with the best, they said.”If you don’t make errors, you have a chance to win,” said Coulter. In one of their losses to state-powerhouse Lamar, it was those routine plays that made the difference.”If we make a few less errors, we win that game,” said Coulter. “They (Lamar) didn’t make any errors.”
The strengths of the team are hitting and pitching. They can come at you in a variety of ways. That showed up later on in the Flight Days’ tournament, when the Trojans beat a visiting team from Elizabeth, and then run-ruled Fruita.They have no doubt about their talent, but there’s more to it than talent, said Barkman.”You have to be in it mentally,” said the Trojan utility-man, who plays first base, shortstop, outfield and pitcher. “When we get down, we get real down. You have to have a short memory and get your head right back in the game.”Barkman added that the team is trying to peak for the Triple Crown World Championships. Those will be held in Grand Junction at the end of July. The Trojans have already qualified. There, they will face the best teams from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado.”I really like their chances to win some games at this tournament,” said Coulter.”It’s amazing playing these teams from Eastern Colorado and the Front Range,” added Barkman. “They are so much better, top to bottom, than we are. It makes us better.”Youth movement
There is plenty of talent in the pipeline, too. With Triple Crown creeping into the lower-age divisions, the skill level will continue to rise.”The kids love the format in Triple Crown,” said McClintock, who coaches the U-13s. “It’s challenging and they get to hit against different pitchers than they normally see.”McClintock’s son, Ryan, plays on the team, along with Robert Padgett, Cody Coulter, Aaron Hakes, Blake Seig and Sean Minnett among others. They’ve had solid contributions from everyone helping their team to some big wins this year. They beat Steamboat Springs 15 – 11, and notched a 12 – 9 victory over Littleton.”Those were huge wins,” said McClintock. “We will probably see that Steamboat team in districts. This will be a big confidence builder for us. I think we can improve on that, and play some competitive baseball for the rest of this year.”Ellsworth and Sabo have seen their team grow, too. “They have been getting better each week,” said Sabo. “For being thrown into this and having a lot of new stuff thrown at them in a two-week period, they are doing great.”Sabo said he, Ellsworth and all the other coaches are looking forward to seeing what these kids can do the next three or four years.”It’s nice to watch them grow as kids and players,” said Sabo.
Next stepBesides improving team chemistry and individual skills, Triple Crown also gets kids playing by rules similar to what they’ll see in high school. “We are leading off, having pitchers pitch out of the stretch, and playing on a bigger field than what they would see in Little League,” said Sabo. “This helps them when they get to high school to be a little more accustomed to the rules.”They are following in the footsteps of their boyhood idols – like Micah Bernhardt, who is a hitting coach for the team. Now, with more game experience, and a close-knit team to boot, these guys are ready to take it to the next level.”They used to play against teams who played so many more games,” said Whitehead. “With this group working together all the time with our coaches and the high school coaches, we think it is a realistic goal to win a state championship.”PULL QUOTE: “We have some great players coming up. Triple Crown lets them get out of town and see some different competition.”- Ed Coulter, coach of the Eagle Valley Trojans