LONGMONT — As the regular season starts to come to a close, Erie baseball has little room to make mistakes.
Going into its Thursday game at Longmont, it sat just outside of the top 32 in CHSAA’s RPI for Class 4A at No. 34. That means the Tigers will have to finish second behind Windsor in the Nothern Colorado Athletic Conference or win at least a couple more regular season games if they want any chance to make regionals.
Thursday’s 12-6 win over the Trojans was a step in the right direction, even as Longmont started to make a run at them in the end. Their power hitting carried them early after scoring 10 unanswered runs through the first four and a half frames.
“It’s definitely become an identity of the team,” Erie coach Dustin Conley said. “We always stress that we want to be able to do more than just that, but we’ve been carried in a lot of games through that. Our one through four (batters) come up and they hit the ball hard all the time; that’s what we’re living by.”
Freshman Varek Van Aelstyn began a firestorm for the Tiger offense in the second inning when he hit a double to the left center field wall to bring three runners home. His teammate, starting pitcher Trenton Rowan, complemented that effort with a grand slam just an inning later.
The Trojans, who ended an eight-game winning streak just a week earlier, just couldn’t find the offensive rhythm to match the power that the Tigers were bringing to the plate.
“We just looked tense, maybe caught up in the moment a little bit instead of just playing loose,” Longmont coach Tom Fobes said. “We just looked out of sorts at the plate. (Erie has) tough guys hitting, and we knew that coming in. (Starting pitcher Jacob Moats) did a good job but he left a couple of balls up and they didn’t miss on those balls. They hit all those balls hard.”
When the Trojans had their backs up against the wall, down 10-0 in the bottom of the fifth and with the mercy-rule nearly in effect, they found some consistency. Junior Ryan Bruckner hit an RBI single to bring Griffin Taylor home, and an Erie error a few batters later lent way to another Longmont score.
Longmont successfully forced a sixth inning, and didn’t stop there. Junior Jack O’Brien added two more runs to the Trojans’ total on a hard line drive hit to first. A couple wild pitches brought two runners home just before that to make it 10-6.
“The bases were loaded and we scored off of a wild pitch,” O’Brien said. “I was just looking to do my job and get those runners home and got beat with a fastball inside. Luckily, I got it over the first baseman’s head.”
The Tigers added a couple more cushion runs in the top of the seventh frame and shut down the Trojans when they came up to bat for the last time.
Now 12-6, the Tigers wil look to add to their win total when the two teams meet up again on Saturday on their home field. Longmont, now 11-7, knows they have what it takes to compete with them, no matter what the day may bring.
Rowan, however, knows that he and his boys will have to do whatever it takes to punch their ticket to the postseason.
“I think we’re just going to have to play our game,” Rowan said. “We’re a really solid baseball team when we play our game. We can’t play down to other teams. When it comes down to it, we have to finish out games, save a lot of pitching for us.”