Win for Coach
Tigers top Wildcats on Bill Fanning Night
Maybe Bill Fanning wanted his night to last a little longer, so he turned out the lights.
That would be the baseball romantic’s explanation for the lights going out before Grand Junction High School, where Bill Fanning fashioned his legendary coaching career, could bat in the bottom of the fifth inning.
An electrician’s explanation was that the main breaker for Lincoln Park switched off at 8 p.m., and out went the lights at Suplizio Field for 27 minutes.
School District 51 Athletic Director Paul Cain said he was three minutes from calling off the game when power was restored. So, the game went two more innings and ended with Grand Junction triumphing 13-5 on Bill Fanning Night, which the Tigers plan to make an annual event in memory of the longtime Tigers baseball coach who died in February at age 91.
Had the game been called, Grand Junction would have garnered a 10-4 win. Instead, when play resumed, the Tigers’ offense got going again as if there had been no delay. Three straight singles produced a run, and No. 3 hitter Tristan Lafferty finally failed to reach base, but he still drove in a run with his sacrifice fly to center field.
Before that, Lafferty had doubled, tripled and singled in three plate appearances. The triple came with the bases loaded, and he finished the night with five RBI.
“I just wanted to try to clear my mind,” Lafferty said of his at-bats. “See the ball, hit the ball, try not to make too much of it.”
Tigers cleanup hitter Owen Taylor had the night’s biggest blast, sending an 0-1 offering over the 335-foot sign in left field for a two-run home run and a 10-4 lead in the bottom of the fourth.
“We just pounded the baseball,” first-year Grand Junction coach Donnie Alexander said. “We hit, and we took advantage of bases on balls.”
The walks were plentiful from the Wildcats early, and the Tigers seized on them. Three walks and one hit yielded three runs in the first inning, which answered the three runs Fruita Monument plated in the top of that frame. Then, four walks and three hits netted five runs in the second inning as Grand Junction took the lead for good, 8-3.
“We just didn’t throw strikes early,” Wildcats coach Ray McLennan said. “We got out to that 3-0 lead, and I thought we had the opportunity to tack on a few more, and they got out of it.
“You have to throw strikes and not put guys on base.”
After the second inning, Fruita surrendered only two more walks, but the Tigers’ hits were timely in scoring five more runs. The timely hit eluded the Wildcats, who left the bases loaded in the first and fourth innings and grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the sixth inning.
Neil Ryan earned the win for Grand Junction, pitching two innings of middle relief. The bases were loaded when he entered the game with one out in the fourth inning. He hit the first batter he faced, forcing in a run, but he followed by striking out the next two batters. He then retired the Wildcats in order in the top of the fifth, and as the Tigers returned to the dugout, the lights went out.
The long break appeared to take Ryan out of his rhythm in the sixth as he allowed a hit and two walks to load the bases, but left-handed reliever Ty Dixon induced a comebacker to the mound for a 1-2-3 double play, saving Ryan from any runs on his ledger.
Lafferty said the win was good for the Tigers because it was a Southwestern League contest, and they don’t usually play league games this early, so setting the tone was important.
Meanwhile, McLennan said the Wildcats can overcome the loss.
“We still have nine games to go in the (Southwestern) league,” he said, “and I believe in the character and leadership of this team.”
Winning on Bill Fanning Night also meant something to the Grand Junction players, who after the game were introduced to Bill Fanning Jr., who made the trip to Grand Junction from Longmont.
“Last year I met him for the first time,” Lafferty said of Bill Fanning Sr. “We all know he pretty much started Tiger baseball. He’s the face of Tiger baseball. We all have a lot of respect for him.”