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Rangers' leaning on depth to start Legion baseball season

Apr. 20—The Laramie Rangers American Legion baseball team is scheduled to start its season this weekend in the Cheyenne Icebreaker with games against Rock Springs, the Cheyenne Sixers and the Cheyenne Hawks.

Games times are fickle due to pending weather, but, for now, the Rangers will play Rock Springs at noon Sunday, followed by the Sixers at 2:30 and the Hawks on Monday at 5 p.m. Then, there will be one more game with the Sixers at 7 p.m. Monday.

A season ago, Laramie finished 28-32 after being beaten 8-3 by the Sixers in the semifinals of the Wyoming Class AA state tournament in Jackson. The team feels more equipped to perform deeper into the season this time around, according to head coach Aaron Lozano.

"The biggest difference for us this year is depth," Lozano said. "We have a few more kids that we're carrying this year, plus the college kids (Brandon Chavez and Tayton Moore) we have coming back will give us more depth than we've had in the past.

"Last year, we ran with four outfielders, and four or five pitchers. This year, we can use everybody on the team."

Lozano feels the lack of pitching depth was the main difference in wins and losses last season. The 105-pitch limit only allows pitchers to last until around the fifth inning.

"We've got starters that can last five innings into games, and we have the relievers to come in and close the game down," senior Jace Moniz said. "Our pitchers need to throw ground balls for infielders, and put trust in the team behind them to score runs."

Chavez, Moniz and junior Sam Hoyt form a formidable three-headed attack in the Rangers' starting rotation. Graduate Aidan Buchanan, Moore, junior Diego Herrera and senior Ben Malone are expected to see elevated time on the mound in addition to their role a season ago.

"Aidan will be big on the mound and fill the zone with a ton of strikes," Hoyt said.

Added Lozano: "Herrera gave us a lot of valuable innings in relief last year. Coupled with the new guys, we're in a good spot."

Herrera is seen by teammates as someone primed to take their performance to the next level. He radiates confidence entering his second season with the Rangers.

"He could be one of the best players in the state," Jace Moniz said. "He's got the bat, he's got the glove, and he will be just fine."

While it's hard to get a true feel for the team this early in the season, Lozano expects the Rangers to be defensive-minded and have to manufacture runs.

Mason Branch and Griffin Webb will not be in the Laramie's lineup this season. Branch opted not to play after a year at Rose State College, and Webb played out his final season of eligibility last July.

"Mason and Griffin are definitely our biggest losses," Hoyt said. "They were starters and contributors for us. Mason was one of our strongest pitchers, among other things, and Griffin had such a sure glove at third base."

Added Moniz: "Sam (Hoyt) is honestly the best bet to replace Griffin at third. He's got the glove and the arm to whip it across the field. I think he'll be a good guy to replace him in the lineup, as well."

Although Laramie lost two starters, there are multiple players coming up from the junior varsity team that Lozano has confidence in.

"Carson Moniz and T.R. Richardson are two people that can give us a lot on the mound and fight for time in the field," Lozano said. "Will Arens is another one that can give us quite a bit.

"Also, due to non-serious injuries, but injuries nonetheless, Will Harris is going to have do a lot behind the plate at catcher."

In addition to Harris, Trace Looney and Moore will handle catching duties. Looney was the Rangers' No. 2 catcher last year, but a lingering injury from Laramie High's basketball season will cause him to miss time behind the dish.

Obviously, a team must score runs to win. The Rangers feel they were too inconsistent with the bat last summer.

"We need to put the bat on the ball more," Hoyt said. "We're going to have to get things moving out there."

Laramie hit .286 as a team last season, with a .396 on-base percentage and a .756 on-base plus slugging. For comparison, the Sixers hit .321, with a .438 OBP and a .882 OPS.

Lozano is depending on seniors to act as the team's primary run producers. They are players ready to compete at the next level, and have worked hard in the offseason, the coach said.

"Ben Malone, Mason Aragon and Jace Moniz have put in a lot of work in the weight room and the cage this offseason," Lozano said.

Added Hoyt: "Mason is also valuable in the field. He's a wall over at first."

Malone has maintained the mentality of a team leader throughout the offseason and sets the tone for his teammates. He leads by example and shows people the right way to approach the sport, according to Moniz.

"He's the hardest worker on the team," Moniz said. "He's always leading by example. Anything he tells you to do, you know he'll do it himself."

Austin Edmonds covers Laramie High, University of Wyoming and community athletics for WyoSports. He can be reached at aedmonds@wyosports.net. Follow him on X at @_austinedmonds.