With sights on the 4A post-season, Summit High baseball captains talk club chemistry
2017 Tigers baseball schedule
March 9 — vs. Alameda (19-2 win)
March 11 — vs. Skyview (12-1 win)
March 14 — vs. Middle Park (8-2 win)
March 18 — vs. Canon City (6-9 loss)
March 22 — vs. Arvada (13-2 win)
March 29 — vs. Colorado Academy (4-5 loss)
April 1 — vs. Rifle (6-2 win, 6-5 win)
April 5 — vs. Battle Mountain (12-4 win)
April 8 — vs. Glenwood Springs (1-0 win, 5-2 win)
April 10 — vs. Englewood (22-2 win, rescheduled from March)
April 12 — vs. Eagle Valley, (5-0 win, 14-11 win)
April 28 — vs. Palisade, Palisade at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. (varsity doubleheader)
May 2 — vs. Battle Mountain, Frisco Peninsula Park at 3 p.m. (weather depending)
May 5 — vs. Steamboat Springs, Frisco Peninsula Park at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. (varsity doubleheader, weather depending)
The Summit High baseball team knows what it takes to win. At 6-2 overall, they’ve been doing plenty of it so far this spring, including blowout victories against inter-league foes to begin the season: 19-2 against Alameda, 12-1 over Skyview, 13-2 against Arvada — all played in enemy territory.
Ask the Summit captains what it takes for their team to keep winning, though, and their answers are a little broad, a little vague and just a little familiar to anyone who’s watched enough SportsCenter.
“We need to play with high energy all the time,” answered Andrew Shaw, the senior captain and pitching ace who currently leads the 4A Western Slope for strikeouts with 54 Ks in 28 innings with an ERA of 1.25.
“Doing all the little things right,” said Jacob Payer, a fellow senior and starting first baseman with four hits and a hitting average of .200.
“You know,” said Brian Hessler, yet another senior who boasts an average of .381 and has been Shaw’s catcher since the two were in Little League, “All the clichés.”
With that, the group of three laughs and gives Hessler some good-natured ribbing for his zinger. It’s clear that Hessler is a typical catcher — smart, funny, perceptive, just a little snarky — but it’s also clear that this team is led by a core group of seniors with tons of chemistry. And with enough chemistry, good things are bound to happen on the diamond.
“Yeah,” Shaw continued when the laughter dies down. “But that’s the difference between teams that have a losing record and 14 or 15 wins, is the little things.”
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For only the second time in decades, the Tigers baseball club is off to a stellar start. The boys nearly made the 4A postseason for the first time in school history in 2015 — that team’s record of 12-6 overall and 8-6 in the 4A Western Slope was its best since moving from 3A to 4A in the early 2000s — but a combination of bad luck and bad timing with a last-minute weather cancellation kept them out of the running.
“We’ve all been there before,” Shaw said when asked how this team will recapture the magic of his sophomore season. “We’ve got the leadership, the camaraderie, the chemistry.”
The Tigers also have the experience. With a strong corps of seven seniors, including newcomers like promising pitcher-outfielder Omar Nunez, head coach Tom Looby is confident this year’s squad will pick up where the near-miss 2015 team left off.
“I’m very proud of these guys,” Looby said. “One thing we have going for us is good, strong senior leadership. We only had one senior last year and it really does make a difference to have some solid, mature seniors on the team.”
Looby’s captains agree. Shaw, who made the 4A All-State Honorable Mention list last season, backs up his pitching with reliable hitting. He’s not often cranking home runs, but thanks to long, go-go-gadget limbs and a quick bat, he regularly knocks RBIs with doubles and triples.
“I’ve been doing my thing,” Shaw said of his season so far. “I think I have a lot more confidence in myself to get out there and play well. I’m a senior and I’ve been around the game for long enough that I’ve got the confidence I need.”
Hessler and Payer agree: Varsity ball is nothing new to them. Hessler has been hitting well all season, and his biggest goal at the moment, like any catcher, is to help the guys around him improve. Payer’s production at the plate has lagged a little so far — he’s hitting the ball, it just tends to be right at opposing players — but he’s a bona fide stonewall at first base.
“We need to win the games we should be winning and not lose the games we shouldn’t lose,” said Payer, which drew another laugh from his co-captains but succinctly described the plague of so many Summit High teams. “That’s what gets you to playoffs.”
Eye on the prize
The Tigers enter the bulk of the league schedule sitting pretty, but that doesn’t mean the boys can rest on their haunches. And they haven’t: Summit won its first doubleheader of the season against Rifle on April 1, 6-2 in game one and 6-5 in game two. The team’s entire league schedule consists of doubleheaders far away from home, and while it seems unfair to force one team from the 4A Slope to play so many doubles, these guys have been doing it for four years. It’s nothing new.
“I think it kind of benefits us as a team,” said Shaw, and his co-captains agreed. “We’re all athletes, so we’re used to grinding it out. That first game can really decide what happens the second game.”
With 11 games remaining (the result from yesterday’s game against Battle Mountain wasn’t available at press time), the Tigers still can’t sit back and wait for the postseason to come calling. They have two tough matchups in mid- and late-April — Eagle Valley on April 12 and Palisade on April 28 — but with seven more wins, the team will notch its best regular-season record in school history and likely earn a berth for the 4A postseason. That will also be a first in team history — and a dream come true for senior captains who came so close just two seasons ago. All they need to do is keep mining those baseball clichés.
“We should make the playoffs,” Hessler said. “I know we’re capable. We just have to finish games to get there.”
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