Offense has not been a problem for the Fort Collins Force. Tallying 31 across its first two games, the Force took care of Slammers Prospects, 17-10, and finished off Dirtbags Baseball, 14-4, to sit atop Pool A in the 10u D2 division of the 2018 Triple Crown Colorado State Championships.
“I think you saw us play our game of baseball today,” said head coach Darin Cox. “Sometimes, it’s easy for these boys to get confused with what we’re telling them and what they’re parents are telling them. Today, they were focused and took it one batter at a time.”
Fresh off an impressive victory against a Slammers team that was coming off a double-digit win themselves, Fort Collins was looking for a hot start to kick off Game 2.
“Hot starts are really important for us,” said Jake Batinger. “Every time we get off to a good start, we feel extremely confident that we’ll end up winning in the end.”
After shutting out the Dirtbags with a 1-2-3 top of the first inning. Batinger led the bottom half of the frame off with a single, stole both second and third and came around to score on a passed ball. Max Fowler would also score in the inning, giving Fort Collins an early 2-0 advantage.
“We’re all pretty aggressive on the bases,” said Batinger. “It’s part of who we are as a team. We all have that mentality.”
The Dirtbags struck back in the top of the second inning. Scoring two runs on two hits, the Greeley-based squad leveled up the game with four innings to play.
Working quickly in the bottom of the frame, the Dirtbags took the lead for the first time of the day in the top of the third, pushing one run across.
“I think the boys were a little tight in the first couple of innings,” Cox explained. “They all wanted to hit that double, triple or home run. Once we got them to settle down and focus on just getting a base hit, things really started to pick up.”
Cox’s squad came into the bottom of the third with the exact mentality the coaching staff desired. Fort Collins sent 13 batters to the plate in the inning, scoring nine runs in breakout fashion. Noah McFarland along with Ian Sanderson and Wrigley Cox each came up with an RBI to stretch the Force’s lead, 11-3.
On defense, the Force made use of three different pitchers who all relied heavily on the players behind them to keep the lead intact.
“Our defense is really strong,” said Ian Sanderson, who stepped firmly into the middle reliever role for the Force. “We do a ton of drills every day in practice. Live-ball batting practice with a full infield, double play drills, you name it. We do it a million times in practice and that’s why it gives us confidence in games.”
After the Dirtbags tallied a fourth run in the top of the fourth, Fort Collins needed an extra three runs to close a second consecutive win. Batinger came through once more with a single and a run scored off Fowler’s RBI hit but it was Sanderson who delivered the decisive blow with an RBI single to seal the game, 14-4.
“It’s all about positivity,” Sanderson said. “If we’re positive in warmups, in the dugout and on the field I feel like this team can’t lose.”
The Force face two more pool play games on Saturday before the championship bracket begins on Sunday. With its two wins and high run differential, Fort Collins has a strong hold on the No. 1 seed in Pool A.
“I think Ian said it best,” Cox said. “We’re a confident bunch but we need to stay positive. Our motto has always been ‘so what, now what.’ We won two games, now what?”