Spring sports season in Wyoming doesn’t guarantee spring weather, and baseball is no exception. The Jackson Post 43 Giants American Legion ball club returned to the diamond over the weekend in Rock Springs, battling not just the rust of a long layoff but also through weather as they began their season.
It was windy in Rock Springs, as it always is, and Sunday was especially cold. What wasn’t cold were the Giants’ bats, as the team combined for 63 runs across four contests, with Jackson winning three of them.
“Our kids did a great job. We hit the ball way better than I thought we were going to,” manager Jason Huggins said. “It was cold, rainy, but we got them all in. I am definitely happy about the way we hit it, especially early in the season.”
The Giants played doubleheaders both Saturday and Sunday. Jackson won the first game 17-13, the second 20-6, dropped the third game 10-9 and won the go-home matchup 16-7.
In Saturday’s first win, Jackson got multiple hits from Aaron Huggins, Matt Fisher, Xander Witt, Grant Parkin and Ayden Gralund. Gralund was especially efficient over the weekend, and he started off on the right foot in the opener. The sophomore catcher had three hits and three RBIs. Lukas Gralund had a double, and Witt notched a triple.
In the 20-6 victory, Ayden Gralund had three hits and three runs scored, Bridger Hammond had two hits with a triple, Steven Ashurts had two hits with two RBIs, Parkin had a double and Witt scored two runs.
“We played four games there, and the kids aren’t pressured — they’re just learning,” Huggins said. “Basically until you get two strikes, you’re looking for one pitch in the right spot. If you get it, don’t miss it. And that’s been the simple approach with these guys.”
In Sunday’s 10-9 loss, Parkin had four hits with two doubles, while Fisher came through with a double. In the rebound win that followed, Gralund returned with a triple, and Ashurts had a double and three RBIs.
Gralund is replacing longtime Giant Quentin Bruno as the team’s starting catcher this year, and, if the opening weekend is any indication, the sophomore is ready to fill those cleats.
“He went off. I mean you take a kid like Ayden, and he’s put in so much work this winter,” Huggins said. “He sat behind Quentin last year and learned a lot, and now it’s his turn.”
This Giants squad is a mix of young, up-and-coming talent and a number of returners from last year’s team that dealt with a shortened season and a slew of restrictions as the first sport back in Wyoming during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year they’re back to normal, at least as normal as a sport can expect to be in 2021.
“Last year we lost most of our spring training,” Ashurts said late last week. “We just played with what we had. This year we have enough time to bring all these boys together, put together a great team and go as far as we can.”
An emphasis for Jackson’s team is, and has been for a long time, next- man-up-style pitching. Up and down the roster, Huggins expects to get innings out of all the arms.
Ashurts started Saturday’s first game, going three innings with three strikeouts before being relieved by Austin VanSkike and Owen Khanna. Witt started the second game, earning five strikeouts over four innings before Hammond came to the mound in relief. In Sunday’s loss, Luke Moore got the start before Parkin pitched the final five innings and finished with three strikeouts. In the final game Aaron Huggins pitched 3.2 innings with Warren Newton earning the save in relief.
“To play on this team, you’ve got to pitch,” coach Huggins said. “Everyone toed the rubber, went to the post and did a great job for us. They competed on every pitch, which is something I wanted to see.”
Yet Jackson is still without two of the strongest, most reliable arms on the squad. Two veterans of the team, Parker Bleggi and Connor Lang, are off at college but are expected to return to the Giants once the semester ends. That will make for two hard-throwing starting pitchers as the temperatures, and the schedule, heat up.
In the meantime returners like Ashurts and Parkin said their job before the roster fills out is to keep the momentum going and build a well-rounded squad for Bleggi and Lang to join come summer.
“I think it’s very important for us to set our standards,” Parkin said. “We have to play at a high standard and keep that going.”
The Giants do not have much of a break before returning to competition. The Bozeman Bucks are in town this weekend, taking on the Giants in doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday. Games start at 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday.
“To play on this team, you’ve got to pitch.” — Jason Huggins giants coach