Berthoud baseball eyes postseason

By Dan Karpiel
The Surveyor

For the first time in more than a decade the Berthoud High School baseball team is in position to finish the season with a winning record and a chance at the postseason. Berthoud has won five of their last six games and are peaking in time for the stretch run.

At 6-4 in Tri-Valley Conference (TVC) play, Berthoud is just half a game back of second place in the league and has a reasonable shot at qualifying for the 32-team district tournament where tickets to state will be punched.

Following the Spartans 7-3 win over TVC rival Roosevelt on April 21, Berthoud Manager Buddy Kouns said, “We’re 13 games into the year now and I can’t remember the last time Berthoud baseball was in the conversation for the postseason; we’re in the thick of it.”

Berthoud swept the season series with Roosevelt, winning game two of the series 7-5 in Johnstown on April 23 for their fifth-straight victory but then fell at home to Erie by a 7-6 final in extra innings on April 25. “We’re winning baseball games because we’re getting production on the offensive end from more than one hitter,” Kouns explained.

One change Kouns has instituted has been moving superstar senior Issac Bracken into the starting rotation. Bracken was originally slated to be the team’s closer and play shortstop but, after the Spartans lost some games early in the season, Bracken approached Kouns about shifting to starter.

“Issac came to me at the beginning of the year when we struggled a little bit. He said ‘I know you wanted me to close, but I think I will help us more if you have me start.’ So I said let’s do it,” Kouns explained.

Bracken originally wanted to keep the wear and tear on his arm down as he prepares to play at University of Northern Colorado next year but made the change to help his high school team.

“I wanted to preserve my arm for college but at the same time I need to get out there and work it, keep [my arm] strong and throw my best and help this team win,” Said Bracken. “We were losing some games, I wanted to get up there and see what I can do to help the team.”

In five starts Bracken is 3-0 with a 1.83 ERA and an astounding 43-12 strikeout-walk ratio. In game one against Roosevelt, Bracken allowed two runs on a walk and back-to-back base hits in the first inning but allowed zero runs and only three base-runners in the next five innings.

“After the first inning … I just learned how to pitch to them,” Bracken said. “I threw a lot of off-speed and just every now and then threw a fastball in to try to blow it by them.”

The production from up and down the order of which Kouns spoke was full display against Roosevelt. Leadoff hitter Hunter Pearce, who reached on a walk in the bottom of the first inning and advanced to third on the first of catcher Patrick Barron’s three hits on the afternoon, crossed home plate when the Roughriders caught Barron in a pickle on an attempted steal of second, allowing sophomore second baseman a clear path home.

Two innings later Pearce, Barron and Bracken each singled, loading the bases for cleanup hitter C.J. Balliet. Roosevelt Manager Sean Lydon then opted to make a pitching change, bringing in left-hander Andres Garcia to face Balliet.

The pitching change actually worked in Balliet’s favor as the big sophomore laced an off-speed pitch into left field, scoring Pearce and Barron.

“That situation is kind of what every ball player lives for. And I love lefties, I hit them better than righties. I don’t know what it is but I just went in there relaxed and swung the bat and got the RBIs,” Balliet said. “It was an off-speed pitch … that’s what I was looking for, something right down the middle and that’s what he threw me.”

Bracken and Balliet each scored on passed balls to give Berthoud a 5-2 lead from which they would not look back. Nick Yuska and Colin DeVore each worked walks in the bottom of the fifth, with Yuska scoring on a single from Barron and DeVore crossing home plate on a Roosevelt fielding error.

“What I am pleased with is these guys are starting to roll, they’re really starting to roll, if one guy doesn’t do it today then another guy picks him up,” Kouns explained. “They’re buying into what we’ve been preaching for years here.”

Balliet believes the Spartans can make a serious run at the postseason and credits team chemistry saying, “We’re seeing it, feeling it; last year we didn’t jive like we are this year, and we’re enjoying playing baseball and that’s really helping our games.”

Berthoud 7, Roosevelt 5

The Spartans again hung seven runs on the board against the Roughriders while playing in Johnstown on April 23. Only one of Berthoud starting pitcher Josh Archer’s five runs allowed were earned, as the Spartans uncharacteristically committed four fielding errors. Archer struck out three Roosevelt batters and allowed just a .179 batting average against in his six and one-thirds innings of work.

Archer also drove in a pair of runs for Berthoud on two hits, while Chris DeSousa led the Spartans with three hits in four at-bats on the afternoon. Balliet, Barron, Bracken and Brogan Sontag each also contributed RBIs for the Spartans.

Erie 7, Berthoud 6                                                                                                   

Berthoud’s five-game winning streak came to an end on Monday, April 25, in an extra-inning 7-6 loss to Erie at Jack Sommers Field in Berthoud. The Spartans rallied from a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth and, after giving up four runs in the top of the seventh, Berthoud again pushed three runs across the plate to send the game to extra innings. In the top of the eighth, Erie worked four straight walks to go ahead 7-6 and Berthoud was unable to answer in the bottom half of the frame.

Bracken, who got the start for Berthoud, allowed just three earned runs and struck out eight before getting pulled for pitch count one out into the seventh. The senior also tallied three hits, all doubles, and drove in a run in five at-bats while Archer drove in two and DeSousa one on the afternoon.

Berthoud (9-6, 6-4 conf.) has two more TVC series left on their regular season schedule. The Spartans travel to Mead on April 28 and welcome the Mavericks to Sommers Field on April 30 before closing out the year with a road-home tilt with Skyline in the first week of May.