Hit the road

Fruita pitcher Mallory Paulson and the Wildcats enter the regional tournament at 14-5.

Grand Junction pitcher Elisha Jahnke and the Tigers enter the regional tournament with a 16-3 record.

The road to state will require all of the regional-qualifying Grand Valley-area softball teams to be road warriors.

The top seed in each of Class 5A and 4A’s eight regions gets to host the four-team regional — the top two teams advance to state from each — and none of the locals received a high-enough seed to host.

As a result, Grand Junction is headed to Littleton, and Fruita Monument is going to Highlands Ranch for 5A regionals. In 4A, Palisade goes to Colorado Springs, and Montrose travels to Pueblo.

All first-round games start at 10 a.m. Saturday, followed by a championship game and playback game at 12:15 p.m. and a fifth game to decide the second state qualifier at 2:30 p.m.

Wildcats claim best area seed

Fruita (14-5) tied Grand Junction for first place in the Southwestern League at 9-1 — they split the season series — and earned the highest seed among area teams at No. 11. That earned the Wildcats a first-round pairing against No. 22 Legend (7-10), while regional host No. 6 Rock Canyon (15-4) plays No. 27 Pine Creek (16-3).

“We knew it was a 50/50 chance we were going to be on the road,” first-year Fruita coach Jack Thomas said. “It doesn’t really matter to our girls. We’re ready to go.”

The Wildcats’ No. 1 strength, Thomas said, is its offense.

“We swing the bat,” he said.

Leading the way at the plate are three hitters with averages between .580 and .600: Mallory Paulson, who hit seven home runs and drove in 39 runs; Makenzi DeCrow, who hit 11 home runs and had 43 RBI; and Mariaha O’Dell, who drove in 35 runs.

On the mound, Jenni Sneddon notched the most wins, but Thomas is equally comfortable with Paulson throwing. The two have contrasting styles. Sneddon throws a greater variety of pitches and relies on location, while Paulson is more of a power pitcher.

Tigers will talk with their play

Grand Junction (16-3) drew the 14th seed and a first-round matchup with Standley Lake (9-9), while regional host Chatfield (13-5), the No. 3 seed, plays Denver East (10-9).

Never mind the seeds, fourth-year Grand Junction coach Adam Diaz said. He likes his draw.

“I feel very comfortable with it. The last few games we’ve been playing at a high level. We’re going to go there and let our play speak for us,” he said, adding he’s telling his players their mind-set from here on out is: “Play like it’s your last game and your teammates are depending on you.”

That shouldn’t be a problem as Diaz said the Tigers’ greatest strength is team unity. Not far behind, though, is Grand Junction’s hitting, especially the discipline the Tigers’ hitters have displayed in recent games, rarely striking out.

Leading the way at the plate is junior center fielder Bree Baldwin, who hit .619 with 15 RBIs through 17 games (Diaz did not have statistics available through 19 games Monday night). Baldwin is followed by: junior pitcher Elisha Jahnke (.516, 2 HR, 22 RBI); senior shortstop Arrianna Diaz (.493, 7 HR, 9 doubles, 29 RBI); sophomore second baseman Marisa Arrieta (.395, 12 RBI); and junior catcher Morgan Zanski (.379, 1 HR, 5 doubles, 21 RBI).

Jahnke has done the bulk of the pitching, and among the Tigers’ pitchers she has the most variety and the best movement on her pitches. When she needs a break, Arrianna Diaz takes the mound with similar speed, good placement and a good rise ball.

Coach Diaz added he believes his team played a tough nonleague schedule, and the Tigers went 5-2 against opponents from the Front Range.

Bulldogs unfazed by travel

In Class 4A, Palisade (12-7) got no respect despite winning the Western Slope League at 6-0. The Bulldogs are seeded No. 29 and play No. 4 seed and regional host Discovery Canyon (16-3) in the first round. No. 13 Broomfield (12-7) and No. 20 Northridge (11-8) meet in the other game.

“I really like our odds,” second-year Palisade coach Nicole Zuniga said. “We’re kind of overlooked and under-respected. We have to go out and play the way we’re capable of playing and see what happens.”

Traveling for the regional won’t faze the Bulldogs, according to Zuniga, because they’ve played their past six games on the road and went 5-1.

“We’re definitely playing our best softball right now,” she said, but added, “We haven’t peaked yet.”

The Bulldogs have been hitting the ball well, especially stringing hits together, Zuniga said.

Leading the way at the plate are: senior center fielder Angela Gordon (.580, 5 doubles); sophomore pitcher/third baseman Danica DeLahoz (.485, 9 doubles, 2 HR); junior catcher Jenna Lucas (.424, 6 doubles, 1 HR); senior pitcher/third baseman Katie Rupe (.371); and senior first baseman Sierra Clark (.356, 3 doubles, 5 triples).

DeLahoz and Rupe bring different approaches to the mound. DeLahoz is more of a power pitcher, and Rupe is more finesse.

Montrose in Top seed’s region

Montrose (14-5) drew the 16th seed, which earned the Indians a first-round game against No. 17 Falcon (12-7) in the region hosted by Class 4A’s No. 1 seed, Pueblo East (18-0). Pueblo East faces No. 32 Cheyenne Mountain (10-8) in the first round.


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