Burning baseball bats, pitchers throwing gas

Senior rifleman Trey Caldwell tries to outrun a throw to Coal Ridge first baseman Ben Simons earlier this season.
Ray K. Erku / Independent Post

Rifle baseball is on a tear.

Coming off of Wednesday’s dominating 7-2 win over Roaring Fork, the Bears are 14-4 overall with a 7-3 league record. Their exploits keep them in a comfortable second place overall in the 4A Western Slope League.

Head coach Troy Phillips said, especially now that his team has acclimated to a vacant full season of COVID-19 complications, the Bears appreciated having a full roster.

“It’s a good group of kids right now,” he said Thursday. “They are good players who have been playing together for some time.”

Topping the 4A Western Slope standings are the 16-2 aggregate, 10-0 league Palisade Bulldogs, a team to which Rifle succumbed twice during the 2022 season.

On April 6, Palisade defeated Rifle 10-3. Another two weeks later, they came back and rocked the Bears 11-1 again.

“They’re the No. 1 team in the state and have been for a lot of the season,” Phillips said of the Bulldogs. “They are very well trained and very talented.”

But that didn’t allow Garfield County’s top high school team to outsource most of their opponents by significant margins. To be exact, the Bears have scored 154 points to their opponents’ 31 in all wins.

Wednesday’s non-league game against Roaring Fork illustrated this anatomy of attacking and defensive success.

Namely, Rifle sophomore Logan Gross turned into a teenage human highlight reel, catching six strikeouts in six innings on the mound before lighting it up at the plate.

“He also hit a 2-run homer in the seventh inning to extend a 4-2 lead to 6-2,” Phillips said.

Senior teammate Easton Phillips threw a single and a double for two RBIs. Lined Connor Abbot Junior Rifle. Austin Bowlan and Broc Caldwell also released a single and RBI each.

“Kade Street singled, reached by mistake and played catcher really well, blocking some key curveballs to prevent some runs,” Troy Phillips said.

Currently, the Bears enter their final five games of the regular season with a .353 batting average, 169 hits and 139 RBIs in 18 games played.

Phillips, however, still wants to see more consistency from his hitters.

“That’s an area where we’re not there yet,” he said. “We will have two or three hot guys one game, two or three other hot guys another game. We can’t heat most of it at once.

Gavin Peterson leads the charge at home plate. So far, the senior Rifle has 20 hits on 46 at-bats and leads the standings with 31 total RBIs. Meanwhile, Gross amassed 30 hits on 52 at-bats for a 30-times team leader through home plate.

On the other end, throwing continued to be a bright spot for Rifle, with the Bears posting an overall team average of 2.89 earned runs.

“It might be one of the best pitching teams I’ve ever had,” Phillips said.

In particular, Bowlan was formidable on the hill, allowing just 31 hits and 17 runs in 39.1 innings pitched. With a 1.25 ERA, he has six wins and just one loss.

“Austin Bowlan has amazing curveball and his fastball has improved,” Phillips said. “I think he’s really taken off this year.”

Next, the Bears prepare for a doubles matchup Friday at Middle Park. The Frontier League 3A/2A side are currently 8-6 and 5-2 overall in the league.

Once the season is over, the Bears have a chance to reach the final eight teams in the 4A Western Slope playoffs. The last time they accomplished this feat was in 2002.

“We try to be as good as possible,” Phillips said. “We are only focused on the next training and the next match.”

Journalist Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or [email protected]

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