GJ, Central ready to show off skills in softball regionals
Grand Junction High School’s softball team got off to a rough start, but the Tigers smoothed things out and finished the season well.
Two wins in its first nine games prompted second-year coach Si Espinoza to make changes in the lineup. Those adjustments helped the Tigers (10-9) win eight of their final 10 games to reach the Class 5A regionals.
“Really, we feel like we’re a much different team than we were at the beginning of the season,” Espinoza said.
Grand Junction, the 27th seed in the 32-team regionals, has a chance to show its improvement when it opens the Region 6 tournament against sixth-seeded Fossil Ridge (17-2) at 10 a.m. on Saturday in Fort Collins. The top two teams from each of the eight four-team regional tournaments advance to the state tournament Oct. 20-21 at Aurora Sports Park.
Making the regional didn’t seem likely for Grand Junction early on. After a convincing season-opening victory over Palisade at Bergman Field, the Tigers lost seven of their next eight games and were outscored 91-53 during that stretch.
That’s when changes were made.
Hannah Hutto moved from shortstop to become the Tigers’ primary pitcher. Second baseman Haeleigh Harris was moved from the No. 2 spot in the lineup to No. 6 to provide a spark to the bottom the order.
The changes have worked. During the Tigers’ past 10 games, they’ve hit .421 (122 for 290) with eight of the team’s nine home runs. Hutto has been the starting pitcher in eight of those 10 games and has a 2.95 ERA with 59 strikeouts and 24 walks in 47 2/3 innings. She’s also batting .567, which is second best among Southwestern League players.
Central (15-4), which won its fourth consecutive SWL title, nearly got a chance to host a regional for the second consecutive season. Instead, the Warriors are seeded 10th and head to Littleton to play in the 5A Region 7 tournament.
Central opens against 23rd-seeded Castle View (11-7-1), with seventh-seeded Columbine (13-6) and No. 26 Vista Ridge 12-7) also in the bracket.
The Warriors bring a potent offensive team into the postseason. Central’s 28 home runs is top among Class 5A teams, and Jordyn Hays and Sierra Dunham have each hit seven. Hays is also hitting .525 and leads the team with 35 RBI. Hailey Schaneman hit .452 and had 30 RBI.
The Warriors also had 64 stolen bases as a team, led by junior Jaeda Garcia with 16. She also has a team-high 28 runs scored.
In the pitcher’s circle, junior Kelty Key has logged a majority of the innings with 60. She has a 6-2 record and 3.36 ERA. Ashleigh Satterfield had a 6-1 record and struck out 29 in her 38 2/3 innings. The pitching staff goes into the regional with a 2.84 team ERA.
Rifle got the No. 9 seed in the Class 4A Region 2 tournament. The Bears (15-4) play No. 24 Ponderosa (8-10-1), with the winner playing eighth-seeded Frederick (13-6) or 25th-seeded Pueblo East (9-10) early Saturday afternoon.
Montrose (9-10) made the 4A Region 4 tournament as the No. 29 seed. The Indians open against host Discovery Canyon (14-4-1).
In Class 3A, Meeker (16-3) will host the Region 8 tournament as a No. 9 seed and play 24th-seeded Sheridan (8-10) with the winner facing eighth-seeded University (13-6) for the regional title.
Meeker boasts one of the state’s best power hitters in junior shortstop Megan Shelton. Her 12 home runs are tops in Colorado regardless of classification, and 21 of her 36 base hits this season have gone for extra bases.
Delta (11-8) will be in Lamar for the Region 4 tournament. As the 13th seed, the Panthers will play Lyons (6-13). The winner earns a state-tournament berth and faces fourth-seeded Lamar (14-5).
Cedaredge (8-11) snagged the No. 17 seed and will play 16th-seeded Valley (7-12) at 10 a.m. on Saturday, with the winner facing top-seeded Brush (16-3) at 12:15 p.m.