BY NICK ROBINSON
JOHNSTOWN — An 11-3 run-rule defeat by the hands of the Denver Generals put J.L. Buchanan and the Colorado Cyclones at the crossroads.
“After we got run-ruled by the Denver Generals, sitting at 10-5, Shane (Dyer) and I decided we needed to coach our butts off the rest of the summer,” Buchanan, head coach of the Cyclones said. “We were sick of watching these guys be average. I don’t think we’ve been run-ruled the last four years before that. We went on to win 10-straight games after that. It was a wakeup call for everyone.”
The 10-game win streak helped catapult the Cyclones (22-8) to their fifth-straight league title.
Yes, you read that right.
“It’s really hard to do anything five times in a row like that,” Buchanan explained. “It’s been a weird summer compared to last years. We set a high standard because of last year. Everyone was very stressed out (this summer). As long as we get it done, I told them, it doesn’t matter how we do it.”
Compared to a season ago, Buchanan feels the competitive games until the end of the season helped his team, as they prepare for the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kansas.
“In the past, we’ve had to win the league tournament, we haven’t blown everyone out of the water like we did last summer,” he said. “The league has gotten a lot better, especially the pitching. It was fun to have to play important games in July. It’ll work out for the best, I think.”
Looking back to when the team came together in mid-May, Buchanan sees progress in his players.
“We have come a long way,” Buchanan said. “We lost two of our top pitchers as soon as the summer started. This is one of the younger teams I’ve had in the past. We had a lot of guys that needed to make adjustments with their swings, and adjust mechanics on the mound.
For us, I think we achieved exactly what the league is, a developmental league. It’s fun to have to coach in the summer and some guys are a couple adjustments away from being successful.”
As a unit, Colorado had a .444 on-base percentage, and a .306 average, with 162 RBI’s.
“Wyatt Featherston (.299 AVG, league-leading 28 RBI’s, 6 HR’s) had a great summer,” Buchanan said. “He got drafted out of high school and made the adjustments to get back on track, to where he wanted to be. Jake Haze (,408 AVG, 19 RBI’s) is a kid we worked with a lot, too. Matt Burkart (.382 AVG, 12 RBI’s) came in wanting to get better, and he has really hit the ball well this summer.”
The Cyclones pitching staff had an ERA of 4.61, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.25.
“Brayden Brooks (17 IP, 19 K’s, 1-1), coming off his knee injury, has been outstanding,” Buchanan said. “Ashton Mansur (16.1 IP, 25 K’s, 3.85 ERA) and JT Mossberg (28 IP, 31 K’s, 1-0, 0.94 ERA) have thrown the ball very well this summer, too.”
Because Colorado advanced to the second week of the NBC World Series a year ago, the league winner will get a bid to Championship Week this season, as well.
“That is why we have been tripping out all summer,” Buchanan noted. “We earned that for the league, but it’s really a dream come true. Week two is the best. That’s when the high attendance is there, the most scouts, and the adrenaline peaks. We are really excited for that. We’ve done a good job responding to good, quality baseball teams this summer. This is why we come back and do it every summer – to let them be whoever they want to be on the big stage.”
According to Buchanan, the preparation will be light for the Cyclones leading into the voyage to the Great Plains.
“We will have a few practices,” he said. “We need to get guys starting to hit as much as possible. I don’t like to overdo it. When we’re out there, we are the underdogs. And, I like that. We stick to ourselves and do our own thing. It’s us against everyone else.”
The first game of Championship Week is slated on August 1 at Wichita State University – Eck Stadium.
“Game one is always the toughest,” Buchanan said. “They’ll throw their best pitcher and we don’t know what their lineup will look like. We will watch the other teams in our bracket, so we know who we will be playing, and what not.
Now that we have a bullpen that have a purpose and a role, we will have to pay attention a little more as to what’s going on.”
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