TJ ready to challenge East, North after o≠season ti≠
Throughout the offseason, it appeared Thomas Jefferson was primed to make a run for the Denver Prep League title — and a Class 4A playoff push — following the team’s third-place league finish last season.
The Spartans boast a pair of aces in senior right-hander Trystan Kimmel and junior left-hander Connor Side, plus a third viable starting arm in senior Patrick McDuffie. They also have an experienced lineup to match. In all, it makes Thomas Jefferson a bona fide threat to dethrone defending DPL champion Denver North, as well as finish ahead of perennial city power Denver East, which took second in the league last spring.
But in the first week of February, Thomas Jefferson went through a coaching change. A switch in leadership about a month before the season starts is bound to rattle any program, but into the fray following coach Al Bleser’s departure stepped interim coach Graham Baughn. He has restabilized the Spartans (2-0) heading into Friday’s league game against Denver North at 6 p.m. at All-City Stadium.
“There’s obviously a transition — some of the guys were pretty upset with the move, but being with the club for three years now I’ve got pretty good relationships with the players,” Baughn said. “They started to buy into my philosophies and what we’ve changed a little bit, and I think in a way it’s given them a bit of renewed energy to learn some new philosophies, some new techniques, new fundamentals.”
Bleser, who had led the Spartans for two seasons in addition to his roles as a longtime professional scout and the Director of Events for the Colorado Instructional League, wishes his former team the best.
“I look forward to seeing them make the playoffs again this year,” he said.
He also added that despite complaints from a faction of contentious parents that led to his exit, he did not force his players to play for a specific summer team, something that’s prohibited by CHSAA bylaws.
“Nobody’s ever been made to play for me, at any time or anywhere (during the summer), including last year when we had two or three kids who didn’t play with us in the summer and they were varsity players and all-league players,” Bleser said. “I supported them.”
But regardless of the events that led to Bleser’s departure — school officials would not offer specifics — Baughn has his players believing the Spartans have an opportunity to win the program’s first DPL championship since 2012. Denver North Coach: Ernesto Marquez Last year: 18-2, 16-0; lost in first round of Class 4A District 7 tournament
Key returnees: Sr. SS/RHP Judah Wilbur, Jr. OF Harris Williams, Sr. C/RHP Jose Robles
Pivotal games: March 17 at Thomas Jefferson, March 21 vs. Thomas Jefferson, April 18 vs. Erie, May 2 at Denver East, May 4 vs. Denver East
Of note: After winning their first league title in 16 years last spring, the Vikings have the firepower to make noise at the Class 4A state tournament. Denver East Coach: Seth Lavigne Last year: 15-5, 14-2; lost in first round of Class 5A District 6 tournament
Key returnees: Sr. P Nick Pottle, Jr. John Harned, Jr. Miles Pojar
Pivotal games: March 16 at Grandview, March 18 vs. Columbine, April 22 at Thomas Jefferson (doubleheader), May 2 vs. Denver North, May 4 at Denver North
Of note: After graduating seven seniors, the Angels will lean on senior Bryce Libra and an array of younger arms to complement Pottle on the mound.
Thomas Jefferson pitcher Patrick McDuffie puts a little something extra on his offering against John F. Kennedy during their Denver Prep League game this week. John Leyba, The Denver Post