Speedy Eagle Valley breaks out bats and gloves
GYPSUM, Colorado ” If Thursday’s Eagle Valley baseball practice is any indication, expect plenty of powder days in March.
For the first time this year, the Devils went outside on their nearly-thawed field with unseasonably warm temperatures. Eagle Valley manager Ken Reagan should probably start rescheduling home games now due to snow and Murphy’s Law.
For the time being, the nice weather and a stellar 2008 campaign are reason for optimism in Gypsum. The familiar pings and pops of baseball season are back as the Devils try to improve on a 14-7 record and their first playoff appearance since 2002.
“It’s awesome (to be outside),” junior Jack Barbella said. “It’s exciting to see the grass again.”
Eagle Valley should be excited. Back from last year’s postseason squad is a speedy lineup looking to put pressure on opposing defenses.
Leading the potentially-potent offense are Jack Barbella and Seth Williamson. Both earned honorable-mention all-league honors last season. Barbella hit .404, scored 22 runs, batted in 20, and stole 21 bases. Williamson matched Barbella with a .404 average and had 21 RBI.
Add Cody Coulter, Robert Padgett, Aarron Hakes and P.J. Loera to the mix and the Devils could be a nightmare for opposing pitchers.
“We’re more of a small-ball team,” Reagan said. “We’ll bunt guys over, we’ll steal.”
The pitching staff is where Eagle Valley needs to replace the most production from last year. Gone are Hunter Blevins, Nick Whitehead, Paul Suther and Dan McKiernan. The quartet ate up a majority of the innings in 2008.
Padgett, Coulter, Barbella and Nick Pietrack are the early nominees to start this year for Eagle Valley, but a final rotation won’t be ironed out until after this weekend when the Devils travel to Skyview for a scrimmage.
“Our pitchers are pretty close in speed,” Reagan said. “It’s going to depend on who’s hitting their spots.”
One thing Reagan doesn’t need to worry about is defense. The entire infield returns from last season with the exception of first base. Barbella (shortstop) and Padgett (second base) form a veteran double-play combination.
Hakes is in penciled in at the hot-corner, while Adams and Williamson are battling for catching duties. Pietrack is slotted for first base.
In the outfield, Eagle Valley features an athletic bunch. Reagan said the versatile Coulter will play all over the field, but his main position is center field. James Sanchez, Bryce Zehring and Larry Cavanaugh will all see time in the outfield.
Williamson and Adams could also play outfield when not catching.
“We are solid all the way around the field,” Reagan said.
Even after making the postseason for the first time in 4A last season, Eagle Valley’s season-ending loss left a bitter taste in its mouth. The Devils fell in their first-round matchup to Conifer, 16-2.
Barbella said the team is determined not only to make it back to the playoffs, but advance past the opener.
“(The playoffs) were a great experience,” Reagan said. “It helps them see what it’s like to get there.”
Don’t think Eagle Valley is putting extra pressure on itself, though. The team knows it’s a long season, and they can’t overlook anybody.
“We’re working hard and just seeing what we can do,” Padgett said. “Hopefully, we can make the postseason. We’re just going to try to win games.”
The Devils start the season on March 5 at Montrose. After playing its first seven games on the road, Eagle Valley plays its home-opener on March 21 against Palisade. Snow is likely in the forecast.
Sports Writer Ian Smith can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.