Middle Park baseball back in business with or without field
For Sky-Hi News
The 2021 season was a bit of an anomaly for the Middle Park High School baseball program, given that the field was actually available from the onset. But even if they have to wait for conditions to warm up and thaw out before they have all their facilities ready, the Panthers are pleased to be back at it.
The MPHS season began this past weekend with the Pirate Spring Invitational hosted by St. Mary’s of Colorado Springs.
The tournament was a bit of a rough go against some challenging teams, with Middle Park going 0-3 against Glenwood Springs, Buena Vista and the hosting Pirates.
Middle Park fell 9-1 against Glenwood in the opening game Friday, with the Demons the big winners of the weekend, going undefeated. Though their initial matchup ended faster than they’d have liked, the Panthers avoided the shutout as junior Caden Hanson drove home senior Jack Nance in the sixth inning for their first run of the season.
Later that afternoon against Buena Vista — also named the Demons — it was a more even affair, tied up at 1-1 after two innings, only for BV players to rack up eight runs across the fourth and fifth frames to head to a 9-2 conclusion.
The next day was better as the Panthers saw Nance and junior Grayson Barker cross the plate early in the game for a 2-0 lead. St. Mary’s caught up by the second inning and denied any more Middle Park scoring for the 7-2 win.
On the mound, Nance led the team in strikeouts with six across the weekend, followed by fellow senior Victor Laynes with four as part of the 21 total K’s.
With Nance also leading in stolen bases, he and Laynes each recorded three hits during the trio of games, though it was Barker who added the team’s only double so far.
Head coach Patrick Gallegos said he is limited in upperclassmen, though the young-ish team isn’t hurting for talent.
“We’re heavy on juniors and freshmen. We’ve only got a couple of seniors this year,” he said. “We played a lot of sophomores last year. We’re pretty excited because they got a lot of experience last year. We’ve got pretty solid freshmen talent coming up.”
MaxPreps numbers show that during 2021, Laynes posted the best batting average (.605) among returning players, while Nance earned the best slugging percentage (.878) with five doubles, one triple and two home runs, leading the Panthers in runs batted in with 22 as a junior.
As far as pitching, Nance maintained the best ERA (3.82) though Hanson was on the mound far more, with 34 strikeouts across 33 innings pitched last season.
“Both of them were All-Conference players last year,” Gallegos said. “Jack is kind of our big senior this year; he’s a good hitter, good pitcher, good all-around ballplayer. We’re pretty excited to see what he does this year, and hopefully we can get some of these younger guys on his coattails.”
Among the other Panthers ready to continue a strong prior season are senior Tyler Weatherwax and juniors Corbin Solomon, Kyle Vogelbacher, and Forest Schofield.
Gallegos said that while some of his roster was on the younger side last year, he’s expecting big things as they continue to grow in the sport.
“It’s a big benefit for us having kids with that much varsity experience coming in on their junior year,” he said.
Middle Park went 8-7 overall in 2021, as well as going 7-1 in the 3A/2A Frontier League, finishing in second place in the rankings.
“We beat The Academy but lost to Bennett. Those two kind of put us in a three-way last year at the top,” Gallegos said.
The Panthers were last in the playoff field in 2019 — the 2020 season did not happen — and likely would have been in the running last year if not for a condensed state bracket system in a schedule that went well into June.
Gallegos said the later, temporary season structure had its pros and cons, though he prefers being back to normal.
“Being out a little bit later was a big help to the mountain teams,” he said. “We’re back on a 23-game schedule instead of 16. It was great to have a season since we lost the season before that, but it came at us pretty fast. They built their confidence last year, and now coming back hopefully we can hone in on that success and really just keep that going. We were starting five sophomores, if not more, on average.”
Part of that is being resolved to the fact that using the Middle Park home field will depend on the remaining winter snowfall, though Gallegos is used to preparing for that probability.
“Early in the year, we usually lean on our defense a bit, since it’s hard for us to get a lot of live pitching after coming back to the batting cages,” he said. “Early on, we really want to make those outs and squeeze those at-bats in there early, but that’s pretty normal.”
Gallegos is in his fourth year as head coach.
“A lot of these guys were freshmen my first year, but I’ve coached most of these kids since they were in the club program. They’re in pretty good shape by now, so we want to see what they can do,” he said. “If we stay focused up, I think we can have a pretty strong season. Baseball is baseball, and you’re gonna have better days and rougher days, but I think we should be pretty solid.”
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