The Boulder Collegians have raced out of the gates this summer with a familiar vigor and approach, and it has resulted once again in some pretty high expectations for a team that is always in the conversation for a Rocky Mountain Baseball League title.
On Thursday night against one of those other upper-echelon teams, the local collegiate squad showed there is still much room to grow and improve upon, as they fell 13-2 to the Denver Black Bears in the first game of a doubleheader at Scott Carpenter Park.
The Black Bears got in an early groove at the plate and kept throwing jabs at four different Collegians pitchers, coming up with two home runs, six extra-base hits in all and a seven-run fifth inning that broke the game open.
Still, with a 12-2 mark on the season and 2-2 league record, head coach Matthew Sena said the team is still looking for its best baseball to be played.
"I have to give our pitchers some credit because they did get a lot of ground balls ... but that team is good and they have a lot of hitters," Sena said after the first game, which also saw the Collegians produce nine hits in all. "We have some pitchers that have seen 10 innings this spring and we have others that saw 30-40. There's a big differential in innings pitched and competitive at-bats against good hitters, so this was a good indication of what we need to do better the rest of the way.
"We're right there in the hunt with everybody else."
Two weeks ago, the Collegians went 3-0 on a trip down to face a group of Arizona collegiate squads, and the expectations spiked upon their return. But as is the case with every summer season, pitching comes as a question mark after a lengthy spring season for most of the men on the roster.
Brett Bonar, a catcher who plays for JUCO World Series qualifier Barton Community College, sees the potential in the staff. Thursday, it seemed starter Nick Clawson (Temple College) and relievers Roger Kruse (Fort Hays State) and Devin Elson (Hawaii-Hilo) fell victim to some high choppers just when they needed a ground ball, putting more pressure on themselves to make the perfect pitch.
The Black Bears staked a 3-0 lead after a half-inning and had a 4-2 lead before the fifth frame, which started with a Zach Walsh solo home run and included a 3-run blast by Henry Hausman.
Bonar's two-run home run was the only highlight for the Collegians, as they stranded five and had two runners caught stealing.
"We've been playing well, and I think this was our first real (one-sided loss), and there's a bitter taste to it but at the same time it's a long summer," said Bonar, who went 2-for-3. "We have a big staff that's competitive, and I feel like they're pretty dang good and can throw anything at guys for a strike. Tonight, I just think there were some hot bats over there."
The Collegians will get a break of sorts with no games until Sunday, when they will travel for a non-league contest against the Fort Collins Foxes. They return home next Friday for a doubleheader against the Laramie Colts.