Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs senior Jeremiah Kiely knows what it takes to be a leader on the baseball field.
"The character of this team was incredible," Kiely said. "We never quit, even when we are outmatched on the field. We just keep improving."
This year, the Steamboat senior led the Sailors pitching staff in strikeouts, collecting 19 in just one game against Glenwood Springs. He also was the pitcher of record in all three of the Sailors wins.
But it wasn't his success on the field that made the Sailors' ace a leader among his peers.
Kiely earned the respect of his teammates, coaches and other coaches from around the conference because of his hard work off the field, several months before the baseball season ever started.
It was early January when Kiely blew out his knee during an early season basketball game. The injury ended his hopes of making an impact on the basketball court for the Sailors and it was bad enough that most people had serious doubts about Kiely's chances for recovering in time for baseball season.
But a few days after the injury, Kiely made a bold statement proclaiming he would not only be back, but that he would pitch in the first Sailors baseball game of the season.
A leader was born.
In March, just two months after undergoing surgery, Kiely threw his first pitch. When the Sailors took the field in April for the first game. Kiely stepped onto the mound and, wearing a knee brace, pitched the first game.
"I really didn't think I would be back that fast," Kiely said. "I just wanted to come back as soon as possible and I wanted to contribute in any way that I could."
The Sailors finished with three wins, but managed to place fourth in the five-team conference at 3-6. The club's season came to an end last week when Glenwood Springs eliminated the Sailors in the first round of the district playoffs. But Kiely and three other members of the team were honored when they were named to the all-conference team earlier this week.
"It's definitely more special," Kiely said of being named to the all-conference team after his injury. "Because it was a goal that I had. I just wanted to get the team to be the best it could be. I don't think our record reflects what kind of team we really had. We had something special this year and it's only going to get stronger in the future."
Kiely led the list of players named to the all-conference team and he was the only senior in the group.
Underclassmen John Aragon Jr., Derek Haverly and Tanner Barr were named as honorable mentions. Kiely thinks it's a good group of players who will step into the leadership role next season.
"This is a great group of guys and they all want to win," Kiely said. "They have already shown they can step up and lead this team on the field."
Barr led the Sailors at the plate this season with a .525 batting average. He also scored nine runs and led the team in RBI.
"It's a nice honor," Barr said. "But I would rather have made the (first team)."
Haverly also posted some impressive numbers at the plate and gave the team a boost from his catcher's position. He hit .489 for the season and scored 15 times. Shortstop Aragon finished the season with a .279 batting average.
"I think we did quite well in the all-conference voting," Sailors coach John Aragon said. "We are a very young team, but we have some very talented players."
Coach Aragon thinks that with a little more pitching the Sailors will contend for a conference title next season. He pointed to Glenwood as an example of how well balanced the Western Slope Conference was this year.
The Demons, who finished in the No. 5 spot in the conference, defeated Moffat County (14-6) and Rifle (15-8) last weekend en route to winning the district title. Glenwood will now advance to the regional playoffs, meeting ThunderRidge Thursday at 12:30 p.m. ThunderRidge finished the season with a 17-4 record. The Sailors beat Glenwood twice this year.
To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org