Grand Junction baseball players Willett, Rubalcaba excited for playoffs
Charlie Willett remembers the feeling watching the Grand Junction High School baseball season come to an end last year.
The Grand Junction High School senior is making sure he’s doing what he can to be on the field for a playoff run this season.
“I’m thankful I get to play,” Willett said. “It was way hard (to miss games). The hardest part was when we would lose at state, I couldn’t help but think I could’ve helped the team.”
Willett has helped the Tigers (16-2, 8-1 Southwestern League) win or at least share the SWL title for seven years running.
Grand Junction, ranked 10th in the Denver Post Class 5A poll, has locked up a district playoff berth and could host districts with a victory over rival Fruita Monument (12-6, 6-3 SWL) at 6 tonight at Suplizio Field. The Wildcats have clinched, but look to improve its seed for districts as well.
Willett slightly tore the labrum in his right shoulder in football his junior year. Four games into the baseball season, he dislocated it and tore the labrum some more. He missed several games and tried to play again, but dislocated it a second time and was out the rest of the season. He had surgery May 17.
“After surgery, I had four months before I could do anything,” Willett said. “The whole experience was not something I liked.”
Teammate Sean Rubalcaba knew what Willett experienced.
The junior tore the labrum in his right shoulder two years ago in a football game.
It caused him to miss the rest of the football season and the high school baseball season.
“I was rolling out, trying to get out of bounds and lowered my shoulder,” Rubalcaba said.
“I was hit in the elbow and it tore,” Rubalcaba said. “The injury was not worth the hit I took. It’s not worth one extra yard and losing the whole season.”
Rubalcaba, though, focused on keeping the rest of his body strong and when his shoulder healed, made sure the muscles around it were stronger as well.
“I focused on my strengthening my muscles around it to prevent injuring it again,” Rubalcaba said. “I’ve seen a lot of improvements in my arm strength as well as injury resistance.
“I’ve tuned up my mechanics watching how people throw. I try to incorporate the whole body. That helps with my accuracy and strength.”
Willett learned to use his legs and core muscles more and not rely completely on his arm.
“I use to pride myself on arm strength,” Willett said. “I was hoping I could play shortstop in high school before I was done, but because of my arm I was never able to do it.
“It’s kind of helped, though, because I use my legs more. That helps my overall mechanics because I really have to focus on that.”
Grand Junction coach Kyle Rush knows exactly what Rubalcaba and Willett went through with their torn labrum injuries.
Rush tore the labrum in his shoulder twice, breaking a bone one time.
“It’s huge (having those guys in the lineup),” Rush said. “Both of them are hitting well. Charlie is batting leadoff and is on base all the time and Rubalcaba is hitting .450 in the six hole and driving a lot of people in.”