Grand Junction wraps up SWL softball title
Grand Junction finished Friday what it started Thursday and claimed the Southwestern League softball championship by defeating the one team that could deprive the Tigers of the league title.
The Tigers scored all eight of their runs in the fourth inning, seven runs coming Thursday before play was suspended by rain, as they beat Fruita Monument 8-2.
Winning pitcher Elisha Jahnke, one of seven senior starters for Grand Junction, said the Tigers (15-4, 8-2 SWL) expected to win the league. Even after their second SWL loss, 6-5 to Montrose on Sept. 10, the Tigers knew if they won their final four league games, they would overtake Fruita, Central and Montrose for the championship.
“Those were games that just woke us up basically,” Jahnke said of the two league losses. “We knew we weren’t going to let (a loss) happen again. We knew we were going to pull through.”
Fruita (10-8, 7-2 SWL) concludes its regular season today with a league game against Montrose. With a win, the Wildcats will tie Grand Junction at 8-2 in the league, but the tiebreaker goes to the Tigers.
District 51 Athletic Director Paul Cain said the SWL breaks first-place ties to determine champions, and the first tiebreaker is head-to-head play. The Tigers and Wildcats split their two games. The next tiebreaker is the teams’ records against the third-place team. Grand Junction went 2-0 against Central (7-3), Fruita went 1-1.
Had Grand Junction lost to Fruita, the Wildcats would have won the league title outright, but the Tigers were determined to prevent that.
“We came to play our level of ball, and that was the difference,” Grand Junction coach Adam Diaz said. “We didn’t overlook Fruita. They’re a good team. We had to come to play.”
The Tigers took nothing for granted Friday when the game resumed with Grand Junction leading 7-1. The Tigers added one more run before two groundouts ended the inning.
But the damage was done: eight runs on three hits, two walks, a hit batter and three Fruita errors.
Jahnke worked out of trouble in the fifth and sixth innings after retiring the first two batters in each inning. Fruita scored its final run in the fifth and had two runners on base when Jahnke induced a grounder for the third out.
The Wildcats loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth, but Grand Junction third baseman Shafer Rubalcaba recovered in time after bobbling a grounder to throw out the runner at first base.
Fruita left 10 runners on base, seven in scoring position.