FORT COLLINS — Boulder coach Jack Taylor called it the best play of the season.
His Panthers were up 9-1 in the fifth inning on Saturday against Fort Collins in a huge Front Range League game and the homestanding Lambkins had the bases loaded and just one out against starter Noel Hackett.
Hackett got Fort Collins clean-up hitter Preston Yurt to ground into a 6-4-3 double play that featured a great effort at short by Jake Shaul — who back-handed a short hop, turned and started the twin killing.
It turned out to be even bigger when Fort Collins clawed back to within 9-5 in the next inning, but the Panther shut the door and held on for the victory to improve to 9-2 overall and move to 3-1 in the FRL.
“We’ve been playing that way all season. We gave up a few runs and didn’t let down or fall into a trap of giving up more,” said Taylor, who is back with his second stint in the Panthers dugout after coaching them from 2001-05. “I couldn’t believe (the double play) and at the time I thought there were no outs and we came off the field and I had lost track of outs, then realized we were still at 9-1.”
It was a collective effort from the entire Panthers line-up, with great pitching — from Hackett and Sanjay Solomon — timely hitting and the aforementioned stellar defense.
Boulder gave Hackett all the support he would need with two big innings. Already up 1-0 in the third, the Panthers first three men reached and subsequently came around to score.
Liam Yuill scored on Teddy Schoenfeld’s triple to deep right field. Schoenfeld would score on a wild pitch and Dorsey Chatham cashed in a walk, coming in on Ethan Prout’s sacrifice fly.
The Panthers would send 10 men to the plate in a five-run fifth, cashing in two Lambkins errors after three-straight RBI singles from Jackson Dinkel, Prout and Tommy Wymore.
Hackett took care of the rest. He had the Fort Collins line-up completely off balance with his off-speed pitches and took advantage of a liberal strike zone from the home plate umpire.
“Once I started seeing that he was opening up the zone a little bit, I figured I could probably get away with a little bit more, especially on the corners,” said Hackett, a senior who improved to 2-0. “A lot of them were good fastball hitters and they can’t reach the outside of the plate and that’s what I wanted to do was keep them off balance.”
Said Taylor of his starter’s effort: “He’s doesn’t over-power anybody, but he has enough control and a good enough curveball and change-up, that he keeps them guessing.”
Fort Collins’ Drew Norsen led off the sixth with a home run and was followed by a triple from Michael Field that finally chased Hackett, who gave way to Solomon. The Lambkins would plate four in the inning, but draw no closer.
Boulder will face another big test on Tuesday at home against Legacy. The Lightning took sole possession of the FRL on Saturday with a 10-3 win over Mountain Range.
“It doesn’t matter who the opponent is, we are putting our best guys out there because there is no weak link in our league,” Taylor said. “And we don’t take anybody lightly. Every game is against the best team in the league.”
BOULDER 9, FORT COLLINS 5
At Fort Collins
Boulder (9-2, 3-1)013 050 0 — 9 13 1
Fort Collins (7-4, 3-2)100 004 0 — 5 11 2
W — Hackett (2-0). L — Rozecki (3-2).
Boulder hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Yuill 5-1-1-0, Schoenfeld 4-2-1-1, Chatham 4-2-2-0, Harris 3-1-0-0, Dinkel 4-1-3-1, Hackett 0-0-0-0, Solomon 0-0-0-0, Prout 3-2-2-2, Wymore 4-0-2-1, Wyatt 0-1-0-0, Suchor 3-0-1-0, Shaul 4-0-1-0. Totals 34-9-13-5. 2B — Prout, Dinkel, Suchor. 3B — Schoenfeld.
Fort Collins hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Shade 4-0-1-0, Templeton 3-0-1-0, Iverson 4-1-2-0, Rozecki 0-0-0-0, Enrique 0-0-0-0, Strang 0-0-0-0, Yurt 4-0-1-0, Norsen 4-1-2-2, Field 3-1-2-0, Aragon 4-1-1-1, Dragan 0-0-0-0, Brlecic 3-0-0-0, Stern 2-1-1-1. Totals 31-5-11-4. 2B — Aragon, Stern. 3B — Field. HR — Norsen (solo in 6th). SB — Yurt, Norsen, Iverson.
Boulder pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Hackett 5+-9-3-3-1-4, Solomon 2-2-2-1-2-2.
Fort Collins pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Rozecki 3+-6-4-2-2-5, Villalobos 1.1-4-5-3-0-1, Strang 1.2-1-0-0-0-1, Templeton 1-2-0-0-1-1.