Gene Taylor’s wins twice to secure state title
In the eighth inning Sunday afternoon, in the midst of a second baseball game with a state title hanging in the balance, Dave Jahnke had to use the restroom.
The manager of the Gene Taylor’s American Legion baseball team jokingly told his team to “get a lot of hits” while he was away.
He came back to Trey Morrill mashing a two-run home run and Gene Taylor’s hung on to defeat Mountain Range 6-3 and complete a doubleheader sweep as the club won its third state title since 2012.
Jahnke’s trip to the restroom and his return was one of the funnier moments of a winning streak made by an atypical Gene Taylor’s team. Their regular-season record wasn’t sparkling, but Jahnke and the team were confident they’d click late in season. A team made up of so much area talent and a team that never panics would surely do well.
Sure enough, they didn’t back down from the pressure after losing the first game of the CALB Elite “A” State Tournament to Rocky Mountain 6-1.
Morrill, who won the tournament’s most valuable player and best hitter awards, said that loss is what got Gene Taylor’s rolling. After the loss, they scored 13 runs against Windsor, 10 runs against Eaglecrest and 12 runs against Fairview to reach Sunday, where they had to beat Mountain Range twice to earn the championship.
“It sounds weird, but the confidence wasn’t really there until we lost to Rocky Mountain,” Morrill said. “After that, we all felt like we could do it, that we could play well. We come in and win a game by eight, win a game by 10, and just got rolling. Good pitching, good hitting, good defense. Everybody was playing really well.”
It was Morrill’s performance on the mound that got Gene Taylor’s through the first game of the doubleheader. The Fruita Monument athlete went seven innings and struck out 12 before handing off to Jax Nourse late in the game. Nourse closed out the 4-3 victory, but his pitch-count was monitored closely by the coaching staff so he could come back in the second game without violating CALB rules.
Christian Hafey got the start in the second game and lasted for 5 2/3 innings, then Nourse closed the game out once again.
Offensively, outside of Morrill’s home run, the other turning point came in the sixth inning, when Nick Arcieri legged out an infield single as part of a three-run rally. The call resulted in Mountain Range’s coach arguing the play, but the call stood.
It was Gene Taylor’s fourth championship appearance in a row and its fifth in six years, dating back to 2012. That experience was a factor, Jahnke said, with most of the players on the roster having played for a state championship before.
“We’ve been meeting every night and going over what’s been happening,” Jahnke said. “We told them that we’ve done this before. We’re not breaking any kind of new ground here. Worry about Game 1, flush it, then worry about Game 2. These guys had to battle. They truly didn’t know how much more their bodies could take after our long tournament. But they bought in and found a way to win it.”
For Morrill, the run was surreal.
“Oh my gosh, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “I’m still shaking from it and I get chills just thinking about it. Just this coaching staff, it’s great, and all the battling we’ve had to do this season, we definitely had to work for it and fight through adversity.”