Storm baseball team splits with Vail in Saturday doubleheader
Steamboat Springs — J. Patrick Gonzales was too young to remember much about Steamboat Springs during his time playing in the Triple Crown World Series as a child. But this time, as a member of the newly formed Steamboat Storm collegiate summer baseball team, he has the next two months to relish the beauty and limitless activities the town has to offer.
“Its nice. I like it. I’m into snowboarding and stuff, hiking, so it’s a good place,” said Gonzales, an Albuquerque, New Mexico, native who plays college ball at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. “The team is real great. I didn’t know what to expect. My coach found three places for me to play summer ball and I went ahead and picked this one. It’s a great group of guys. I like the place — the town is nice.”
Gonzales is one of roughly two dozen players on the Storm’s roster this summer. The team is part of the newly established Mountain West Summer Collegiate Baseball League, which features six teams from Colorado. Its purpose is to be a developmental league for college players, with each team playing between 32 to 36 games this month and July, including a postseason tournament.
Games started Tuesday and will be played every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. A week into the summer season, the Storm (3-1) is the only team with a record higher than .500 after its doubleheader split with the visiting Vail Vipers (2-2) on Saturday at Emerald Park.
“We do have a tendency, especially in the second game — it kind of gets to be long days out here — to kind of lose focus,” Steamboat coach Matt Ellinghuysen said. “But for the most part the first week, at 3-1, I can’t complain. Happy with our guys, happy with their effort and kind of just build off from here.”
Ellinghuysen played third base for NCAA Division II Bemidji State University in Minnesota from 2009-13 before returning to the school as its top assistant baseball coach, a role he’s held for the past two seasons. Then he got a call from Joseph LeFebre, commissioner of the new league, and couldn’t turn down a chance to get some head coaching experience leading the Storm.
“I didn’t have any plans for the summer back then, so jumped right on it. Any way to keep in the game of baseball and kind of build my resume and try to move up the ladder,” Ellinghuysen said. “Even though it’s been short, I’ve enjoyed my time out here so far. It’s kind of a change of pace being the head guy, calling the shots.”
So far, so good for the first-time head coach. The Storm opened the season on the road with a 10-8, 4-2 sweep of the Grand Junction-Rocky Mountain Oysters on Tuesday. Its second series — and first at home — was against the Glenwood Geckos on Thursday, but the games were rained out and will be rescheduled.
Then came Saturday’s doubleheader against Vail, with Game 1 ending in a 10-9 win for Steamboat after it trailed 6-0 after an inning. The Storm won the game in the bottom of the seventh inning — all DH games are only seven innings — a walk-off double by University of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, product Austin Richey completing the comeback. Gonzales was the winning pitcher in Game 1, pitching a pair of shutout innings in relief after the team got behind.
“I struggled at the plate earlier in the game and just figured they’ve been piping a lot of first-pitch fastballs, so I figured if he gives me something to handle, drive the baseball,” Richey said of his game-winning hit. “We came back from eight down when we were in Grand Junction, so everybody believes. When we are down we are not really too worried and we are not trying to press and put ourselves in pressure situations. Just stay relaxed and have fun.”
Steamboat also fell into a hole in Game 2, trailing 6-1 after five innings, Richey’s solo homer the only blemish against the Vipers. A two-run home run by Steamboat’s Taylor Flores — a Chandler Gilbert Community College (Arizona) product — cut it to 6-3 in the seventh inning, but a quick pitching change by Vail put an end to the rally.
“I think we had some guys trying to do a little bit too much, and myself, I did that, too,” Richey said of Game 2. “Sometimes early in counts if I get a meaty pitch I tend to go a little bit long with it. We just got to stay us sometimes.”
The Storm will be back in action Tuesday with a noon doubleheader at the Eagle Valley Eagles in Gypsum. They return home for a noon doubleheader Thursday against the Summit Extreme Black Diamonds at Emerald Park. Admission is free.
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