Fruita advances to Sweet 16 with win over rival Grand Junction
Mallory Paulson spent most of Fruita Monument’s softball season watching from the bench.
The talented freshman pitcher dislocated her left patella (knee cap) in first month of the season and was unable to play.
But Saturday at the Region 2 tournament at Canyon View Park, with one win needed to advance to the Sweet 16 in the Class 5A softball tournament, Paulson found herself on the mound with the ball in her hand.
“Mallory is such a competitor, and believes in herself,” Fruita Monument coach Jamie Dunn said. “She got stronger as the game went on.”
After splitting its first two games of the tournament, Fruita Monument had to defeat rival Grand Junction to earn the second qualifying spot out of Region 2.
Paulson gave up two runs to the Tigers in the top of the first inning, but bounced back to allow only three hits to help Fruita win 8-2.
“We haven’t had a lot of teams jump on us early,” Dunn said. “But it was error-free defense that kept us around.”
Paulson got the start against the Tigers over Fruita’s ace Erika Chirdon, who had pitched the two previous games. Paulson relieved Chirdon in a 6-4 loss to Green Mountain, but the Wildcats freshman had yet to pitch against Grand Junction.
“We talked about who should go, and Erika said ‘I just want to see the team win,’ ” Dunn said. “Grand Junction hadn’t seen Mallory, and it was such an unselfish move by Erika.”
Paulson got her run support in the third inning when the Wildcats got two runs to tie the game 2-2. Fruita added another run in the fourth inning, then got a two-run double from Jordan Paulson in the fifth, pushing the Wildcats’ lead to 5-2.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times,” Dunn said. “In the third game we started being more disciplined and more aggressive on the basepath.”
The win was satisfying for a Fruita team that didn’t play its best softball Saturday. The Wildcats allowed their opponent to score in the first inning every game, including their 6-1 win over Ponderosa.
“I think we wanted it so bad that we were trying too hard at times,” Dunn said. “So we have to get back to keeping it simple.”
The Wildcats defeated a Grand Junction team that needed late-inning heroics to make it to the qualifying game. The Tigers lost their first game 6-4 to Green Mountain, which won the regional by defeating Fruita Monument 6-4.
Grand Junction then had to beat Ponderosa to have a shot at playing for the final berth. The Tigers found themselves down 5-2 in the bottom of the seventh with two outs. Grand Junction had two runners on base and the game was up to Roxanne Zich, who had struggled at the plate.
“I believed in her and that’s why she was still in there,” Grand Junction coach Adam Diaz said. “I told her ‘You’re a senior, this could be your last game, and this is your chance to win it.’ “
Zich took Diaz’s advice and launched a 3-run home run to left field to tie the game 5-5.
“I hadn’t been hitting all day,” Zich said. “But I swung and it felt great.”
The Tigers scored the deciding run the next inning for a 6-5 win.
Diaz said he was happy with his team’s effort in the regional.
“There is a lot of character on this team,” Diaz said. “They never gave up.”