A key victory

Tigers calm down, regain control of SWL fate with win over rival Central

Grand Junction’s Shafer Rubalcaba tags Central’s Amanda Etcheverry out by inches at third base Thursday night in the bottom of the fifth inning of Grand Junction’s 8-2 victory at Bergman Field.

Nerves struck early. After that, Grand Junction played the kind of softball that put it back in contention for the Southwestern League championship.

More than that, the Tigers regained control of their league fate.

Needing to hand Central its first SWL loss in order to remain in the title chase, the Tigers (10-2, 5-2 SWL) withstood a rough first inning Thursday and turned back the Warriors 8-2 at Walker Field.

Elisha Jahnke, after allowing a run on three hits in the first inning and escaping that frame with the bases loaded, blanked the Warriors for the next five innings despite allowing one hit in each inning. Central (10-5, 6-1 SWL) didn’t capitalize on its opportunities, stranding 11 runners in the game.

Jahnke said nerves got to her in the first two innings, as Central also put two runners on with two outs in the second inning, using an error and an infield hit. But a flyout to left field netted the final out, then Jahnke settled in. Comforted by the three runs Grand Junction scored in the top of the second for a 3-1 lead, she effectively used her change-up to keep Central’s hitters off-balance.

“Once we answered with those three runs, I knew my team had my back and I could just go out and pitch,” said Jahnke, who struck out five batters, often fooling them with her change-up for the third strike, and walked three.

The Warriors got a strong pitching performance from Amanda Etcheverry through six innings. The Tigers’ three runs off her in the second were aided by an error and a fielder’s choice that failed to get the lead runner. Molly Findlay then doubled in one run, and No. 9 hitter Marisa Arrieta singled in the other two.

Etcheverry scattered three hits and shut out the Tigers over the next four innings, but they finally got to her in the seventh. Grand Junction opened the inning with three consecutive solid hits to left field, leading to a pitching change.

Three batters and no outs later, Central made another pitching change, and the damage had been done. Five runs had scored, four of them on run-scoring singles by Kylie Burns, Morgan Zanski, Jahnke and Shafer Rubalcaba.

“We as a team settled down, and (Jahnke) did, too,” Tigers coach Adam Diaz said. “We kept our composure, kept putting runners on base, and finally we started shoving them across (the plate).

“They had fun. We told them, ‘Have fun. Don’t overanalyze everything. Go out there and play your game, and everything falls into place.’ “

Jahnke and Diaz called the win huge.

Jahnke said it was a nice bounce-back win after losing 6-5 to Montrose one week ago. Diaz added it was an important win from a confidence standpoint and regaining the swagger his team had before the Montrose loss.

Now, Grand Junction can win at least a share of the league title if it wins its final three SWL games against Montrose, Central and Fruita, which handed the Tigers their other league loss.

If Central closes with three SWL wins, it wins the league outright. The same holds for Fruita (6-1 SWL).


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