Sanchez pitches Central past ‘Cats

His excellent start to the season, a shutout and no earned runs in his first three starts, turned south with a trip down south to Arizona, and Noah Sanchez hit rock bottom a week ago. Grand Junction chased the Central senior in the third inning of a 16-2 shellacking of the Warriors.

That embarrassment probably was motivation enough to spark his return to early season form Tuesday, but Sanchez had much more on his mind as he tossed a complete game to help Central turn back Fruita Monument 6-2 at Suplizio Field.

Sanchez wanted to prove to Fruita that his five innings of shutout ball in an 8-0 win over the Wildcats on March 15 was no fluke, and, like the Wildcats (7-8, 2-4 Southwestern League), the Warriors (8-7, 3-3) needed the win to remain in the hunt for the playoffs.

“After Junction, I personally had a bad taste in my mouth,” said Sanchez, who limited Fruita to four hits, walked one, hit two batters and struck out nine. “That was the worst I pitched all season. I knew I was a completely better player than that.”

Fruita could have rattled him in the second inning, when Kelin Henke’s foul popup on the first-base side was misplayed and fell to the ground untouched. With the new life, Henke hit another high popup, this one to shallow right-center, and it dropped untouched between three Warriors and allowed two runners to score, the second one coming all the way around from first base.

Sanchez then walked the No. 9 batter, but that was it for the Wildcats. Sanchez proceeded to retire the next 11 batters and closed with five scoreless innings.

“When he finds the zone, I don’t think anyone in the league can hit him,” Central center fielder Josh Weller said. “He was on.”

And that, Warriors coach Chuck Yost said, was despite Sanchez’s curveball lacking its normal break.

“He came out and attacked the strike zone,” Yost said. “He established his fastball, hit spots and located his pitches.”

Yost said Sanchez’s pitching helped Central play a complete game, adding, “As a team, we played for seven innings, which is something we hadn’t done.”

At the plate, Weller and fellow senior Kyle Serrano led the way.

Weller hit two triples and scored three times, and Serrano had two hits and a sacrifice fly, plating two runs, including the go-ahead run in the third inning.

“We got base hits when we had runners on, and we had three sacrifice flies,” Weller said. “We got it done when there were runners on the bags, and that’s what you need to do.”

Central desperately needed the win as the Warriors and Wildcats are in similar boats, trying to improve their wild-card points to earn an at-large berth in the Class 5A state playoffs.

“It was a must-win game. Even if we didn’t need it for the playoffs, it was a must-win for our mental state,” Weller said, referring to the Warriors’ losses last week to Grand Junction and Montrose.

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