TJ ready to chal­lenge East, North after o≠sea­son ti≠

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Kyle New­man A LOOK AT OTHER DPL FA­VORITES

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

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