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Lugnuts use fifth inning to pull away

Melinda Mawdsley

The Colorado Cutthroats players have all the essentials: sunflower seeds, the baseball bat tap on home base before a pitch and the knuckle-to-knuckle shake with the coaches.

Ivan Nielsen even has a flashy mohawk with his No. 11 shaved in the hair on the side of his head.

What the team of 9- and 10-year-olds from Hayden and Craig doesn’t have is a lot of experience. The group was put together this spring, so this week’s games in the Division 2 Triple Crown World Series will be a learning experience for all.

The lessons started Wednesday with an 11-0 loss to the Topeka Lugnuts in pool play. But the Cutthroats hung tough with the Kansas team through four innings before a seven-run fifth allowed Topeka to pull away.

The Northwest Colorado team only had four base runners, as Topeka’s pitchers combined to no-hit the Cutthroats.

Hunter Johnston, Ben Magnsum and Xavier Peed walked to reach base. Aaron Cramer was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the third. None came around to score, though Johnston was the closest before Lugnuts catcher Derrick Burkhardt tagged Johnston out trying to steal home.

“We’re a good defensive team,” Johnston, 10, said. “We’re not a very good offensive team.”

At least, not yet. If the progress the Cutthroats have made in just one season is any indication, the group of youngsters will be swinging the bats with confidence in no time. Coach Marcus Nielson said the improvement the Northwest Colorado team has made in one summer is unbelievable. When the players gathered at the beginning of the season, many couldn’t throw from one base to another.

Wednesday, Cramer caught his first fly ball of the season in centerfield, and the team turned its first double play of the summer when pitcher Parker Hagins, shortstop Johnston and first baseman Ivan Nielsen combined on a perfect 1-6-3 double play in the top of the fourth

“We practice it every day,” Johnston said. “It was getting closer and closer in the tournaments.”

Hagins added that there was no hesitation throwing it to second because he trusted Johnston to get Jakob Gutierrez out at first.

“I knew Hunter had a fast throw,” Hagins said.

The proximity of Triple Crown’s tournaments made the decision to form a Northwest Colorado tournament team that much easier, Marcus Nielson said. Instead of traveling throughout the state, the Cutthroats have had several opportunities to play close to home.

The competition the Northwest Colorado team has seen, and will continue to see in this World Series week, will make the boys better. Marcus Nielson said he was thrilled the Cutthroats hung with a qualifying team for more than half a game.

“We try our best,” Johnston said. “Our goal is to win one game every tournament.”

“And win more if we can,” Hagins added.

Nielson overheard those words and added approvingly, “They know they don’t have to win all four (games) to have fun.”

It seems, then, that the group of inexperienced players already may have learned the most important baseball lesson of all.

— To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com


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