Fruita softball team embraces team mentality to make it back to state tourney

Hannah Mahnke has become a clutch hitter for the Fruita Monument Wildcats, often coming up with big hits when her team needs them. Mahnke and the Wildcats bring an 11-game winning streak into Friday’s state tournament game against Ralston Valley.

Jamie Dunn wasn’t sure what to expect from the Fruita Monument High School softball team this season.

So many key players graduated from the team that was one base hit away from the Class 5A state championship game last season, the Wildcats’ coach was a little apprehensive in August.

“It’s taken every single one of them,” Dunn said after the Wildcats won the Region 2 championship last week to reach the state tournament. “We really had to get with the team mentality this year. Some kids showed up this season thinking they were going to have to take on everything, and pretty quickly we realized that wasn’t the case. One person was not gong to win it or lose it for us.”

Fruita Monument (18-3) drew the No. 6 seed in the state tournament at Aurora Sports Park and plays Ralston Valley (15-7) at 12:15 p.m. Friday. The Mustangs, ironically, were the second qualifier out of Region 2. Although Fruita didn’t play them, several of the players watched the Mustangs beat Grand Junction to qualify for state.

It took awhile for Dunn to find the right combination on the field this season, but once she did, the Wildcats took off and are on an 11-game winning streak.

“We haven’t lost since that Junction game,” Dunn said. “That was a huge turning point for us.”

Hannah Mahnke said the Tigers’ 5-2 win over Fruita on Sept. 13 got the Wildcats’ attention.

“That was honestly one of the best things that happened to us,” the junior first baseman said. “We realized we aren’t like last year. We had to snap together and be our unique team. It was a good turning point.”

They snapped together behind a new pitching rotation, with Jenni Sneddon starting and Mallory Paulson coming on in relief. When Fruita switches pitchers, the catchers also change, with Makenzi DeCrow coming in for Morgan Young.

“Since we’ve started with Jenni and Morgan, it’s worked for us,” Dunn said. “We’ll ride it for as long as we can, but so far it’s what’s working.

“We get better when Mal and Kenzi come in. If we can keep it close, we’ve figured out what works for this team. I’ll take a little bit of credit for that; it took a lot of work.”

Part of what works for the Wildcats is when they need a big base hit and Mahnke is at the plate.

“Hannah Mahnke comes through for us almost every single game when we’ve needed her to,” Dunn said. “My first five batters, it’s insane. It’s been awesome.”

On cue, Mahnke was at the plate in the regional title game in Fruita’s big fifth inning.

Trailing 5-3 with the bases loaded, Mahnke drove a double to left-center, scoring two runs and tying the game.

“I honestly do (like that pressure),” Mahnke said. “Prove yourself on the team, play your role.

“There are a lot of girls who really stepped up this year and played big roles. Everyone knows their role. It might be different this year from last year, but everyone stepped up.”

That’s the attitude Dunn loves about this team, how none of the girls have complained about playing time or their roles — they just go out and play. And if they’re trailing late in the game, she’s not going to worry. The Wildcats came from behind to win the final two games of the regular season and the regional final.

“If that gets us prepared for (state),” she said, “then I feel prepared.”


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