Steamboat Springs Winning is fun, but learning how to play baseball is more important. That's the message coach Mike McCannon will continue to pass along to the Steamboat Springs Sailors 12-and-under team.
The Sailors fell to the Brighton Bullets, 9-8, on Friday afternoon in the opening day of the Division 2 Triple Crown tournament.
"I was very pleased with the way we came out and swung the bats," McCannon said. "We scored three runs in the first two innings. I can't ask for more than that."
The Sailors -- made up of youths from Steamboat and South Routt -- were put together one week before the tournament. They held two practices at Emerald Park before taking the field Friday against the Bullets, a team that is in its second year of Division 2.
"The level of play is definitely higher, mainly from the stand point that these teams have played a lot more ball than we have," said McCannon when comparing Triple Crown to city league games.
In league games there is no leading off or stealing until the baseball crosses home. The bases are closer and the pitcher's mound is closer to home in league games, as well. Triple Crown games, on the other hand, resemble a truer baseball game.
McCannon thought the boys did a great job adjusting to those noticeable changes against Brighton. For many Sailors, it was their first exposure to the more consistent level of play seen from the out-of-town teams during Triple Crown tournaments.
"I thought we did pretty well for not playing that much together," Steamboat catcher Sean Kuusinen said.
The Sailors nearly rallied to tie the game in the top of the sixth inning. Steamboat held a slim lead for much of the game before Brighton scored five runs in the bottom of the fourth behind RBIs from Jordan Adkins, Marcus Cavender and Eric Frazier.
The Sailors were held scoreless in the fifth before scoring four runs in the sixth. Alex Estes and pinch-hitter Carson Baker walked with one out before pinch-hitter Scott Ptach drove in Estes with an RBI-single.
Ptach stole second, giving Steamboat runners at second and third with one out. What happened next certainly wasn't anything McCannon scripted.
Baker took off for home on a wild pitch and scored easily, but rather than stopping at third, Ptach just kept going and wound up safe at home on the same play. In ten seconds, three Steamboat players, two Brighton players and an umpire were standing near the batter's box.
"I didn't send either one," McCannon said.
Kuusinen ended up walking and stole second and took third on an errant throw back to the mound. He scored on a wild pitch to pull Steamboat to within one. Matt Watwood walked to put the tying run on the base paths, but he never made it to home.
Frazier came in to get the save for the Bullets.
"They've been together for two years and are learning to gel," said Brighton coach Scott Wittmus of his team. "They are getting to know each other and how each other plays."
Friday's game was filled with great base running, timely hitting and good defensive stops, but Kuusinen had the play of the game. In the bottom of the fourth, the catcher recorded the second out on a diving catch and roll near the backstop on Artie Stephens' foul pop-up.
"I didn't think I had it at first," Kuusinen said.
The Sailors (0-1 in pool play) will take the fields today at 4 and 6 p.m. at Loudy Simpson in Craig.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208
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