Times Staff Writer
GHS Junior Varsity Baseball — Time, patience and hard work. That’s the recipe for a high school athlete reaching his or her full potential.
While rarely does one see a freshman or sophomore make a significant impact for their team, the Gunnison High School (GHS) boys baseball program became accustomed to it this season. A total of 17 underclassmen filled the Cowboys’ roster, making an impact on both the junior varsity (JV) and varsity teams.
While sophomores Nico Marchitelli, Gabi Marmolejo, Matthew Solanik, Griffin Pederson and Brant Stickler were all varsity starters — driving in runs or making plays — many more talented underclassmen on the JV team offered high hopes for the future of Cowboys baseball.
“They did really well this season,” said JV head coach Jason Wild. “They were competitive in every game they played, except one.”
The JV team ended the season with an 8-2 record and had six games cancelled due to weather.
Despite not playing as many games as varsity underclassmen, JV players had plenty of time to sharpen their skills for seasons to come.
Juniors Bryce Vincent and Nic Bifano were important to the JV team’s success and helped the younger players grow.
“Bryce is interesting. … He really is a varsity player. His leadership is phenomenal with these young players,” said coach Wild. “He leads by example, has a great sense of humor and is a fun guy to be around. I was happy to have him on our JV team. He helped out a lot with the younger players.”
Vincent and Bifano both will be players to watch next year, as coach Wild was impressed with what he saw from them.
“I like having Nic Bifano on the team,” said Wild. “He's big, strong and can hit harder than anyone on the team. I hope he does really well next year.”
While five underclassmen had significant playing time on the varsity team for the majority of the season, those players — Skylor Wild, Tate Hicks, Sam Buckanon, Spencer Dickey and Erza Hartzell — played key roles on JV as well.
Wild has proven he possesses an all-around game, making appearances at the middle infield, catcher and pitcher. In the batter’s box, Wild was one of two JV players to hit a home run this season — the other being Bifano — and also led the team with a .615 batting average and in doubles with seven. Wild also was tied with Hartzell for runs with 14 and was second in runs-batted-in (RBIs) with eight.
Hicks might be remembered more for sprinting after foul balls during varsity baseball games this season. However, he also dominated on the diamond.
If runners were in scoring position, Hicks was the best to have in the batter's box. He led the team in RBIs with 11. When Hicks wasn’t driving in runs, he could be found in left field chasing down fly balls or at shortstop fielding ground balls.
“This season was a lot of fun,” said Hicks. “We won a lot of games, and I can’t wait for next season.”
Buckhanan, similar to Wild, was a force in the batter's box, leading the team in singles with 12 and stolen base with eight, while also coming in second with a .545 batting average and third in RBIs with seven.
Additionally, Buckhanan bats right handed but throws left handed — which is perfect since his primary defensive position is first base.
Dickey was one of coach Wild’s go-to-pitchers — alongside Wild and Buckhanan — leading the team in strikeouts with seven.
When Dickey wasn’t striking out batters, he was at third base snagging ground balls or pinch running for Marchitelli on the varsity team.
Hartzell was a player opponents didn’t want to let reach first base. He was second on the team in stolen bases with seven, and in singles with nine.
With so many underclassmen on the JV squad, it forced a few players to wait patiently until their number was called. They included freshmen Kaleb Vincent and Brenden Roy.
“Both of them are baseball players. I have been lucky enough to coach them since they were 8 years old,” said coach Wild. “They’re going to stick with the program and going to be varsity players, if not next year for sure their junior year. They just have older players ahead of him.”
Also, a handful of players on the JV team — Jose Sanchez, Dan Mikkelson, Van Mikkelson, Timber McNulty and Davis Mauney — are relatively new to baseball yet still made their share of plays.
“It’s always fun to see the kids who don’t get much playing time or have less experience in baseball come in and make a play,” said coach Wild. “We saw a few examples of that this year.”
The most recent example came this past weekend against Grand Valley, when Sanchez came up to bat in the bottom of the sixth inning. GHS was up 12-3 with a runner on second base. Sanchez blasted the ball to the outfield, driving home the runner while also recording his first hit of the season.
“It was awesome,” said Sanchez. “I maybe could have got other hits from other pitchers, but I just had no confidence like I did last game.”
Wild also noted a key contribution against Grand Valley from Van Mikkelson, who made a play at second base after charging a soft grounder.
“The only way to make that play is to bare-hand the ball and throw the guy out quickly,” Wild said. “For someone who hadn’t practiced that position much, it was neat to see him make that play. That makes me proud seeing stuff like that.”
With baseball season officially over for GHS, it appears the program will have a bright future as the younger players continue to develop over the summer.
(Brandon Warr can be reached at 970.641.1414 or email@example.com.)