Grand Mesa Major girls set to make mark at national tourney
By KENT MINCER
It’s an impressive legacy the Grand Mesa Major girls softball team has built.
Since Bill Lange started coaching the group three years ago, when the girls were in the 9-10 age division, the team has not lost a Little League game in the state of Colorado.
It has gone undefeated in every district and state tournament the past three years.
“They’re like sponges,” Lange said of 11- and- 12-year-olds who take great pride in their accomplishment. “They continue to learn.”
The players ask for extra ground balls and extra at-bats at practice.
Grand Mesa is fully aware of the challenge ahead of it beginning Sunday in the Southwestern Regional tournament in Waco, Texas.
The Southwestern Region traditionally produces some strong teams, particularly from the two Texas state championships.
Eight of the 10 Grand Mesa players (another player will not be able to make the trip) are only 11 years old. Lange took a Grand Mesa Major girls team to the
Southwestern Regional in San Antonio last year. Pitcher Shelby Rubalcaba played in that tournament.
“I think we’re more mentally stronger than last year,” she said. “We all work together really well.”
That teamwork, said Lange, is the key to this year’s success. A couple of the players have switched positions from where they played on the 9-10 team.
“You still have to learn to play as a team,” Lange said. “We’ve moved some girls to positions where they can help the team.”
One of those players is Taryn Smith, who is Grand Mesa’s No. 2 pitcher and plays third base when Rubalcaba is on the mound. It was a big change for her moving from shortstop.
“You’re closer and (the ball) comes a lot faster,” she said.
Having played on both the Little League and club teams, “We’ve had experience from seeing different pitchers,” Smith said.
After working with pitching coach Wayne Guccini this year, Rubalcaba has gained more confidence.
“I throw harder and more accurate,” she said.
Grand Mesa opens the six-day regional tournament Sunday against Silver City, N.M.
The winner plays Texas West champion Crawford on Monday in the double-elimination bracket.
Another Grand Mesa team, the Senior boys, plays in the Southwestern Regional tournament on Aug. 7 in Seguin, Texas.
A third Grand Mesa team, the Major boys, is still awaiting a chance to play North Boulder for the state championship. The teams were rained out in the Denver area for the second straight day Thursday. They’ll try again this evening.
The state champion plays in the regional tournament beginning Aug. 7 in Waco.
Lange’s hope is that this tournament will be a learning experience for Grand Mesa.
“Not many girls in Little League get this chance,” he said. “They’re going to remember this for the rest of their lives.”