Junction softball team inches closer to spot in state playoffs
None of the six seniors on this year’s Grand Junction High School softball roster had won at Bergman Field before this year.
The Tigers’ four wins this season more than made up for lost time, and Thursday’s victory over Fruita Monument may have given those seniors an opportunity to extend their season.
Megan Rubalcaba and Hannah Hutto each had three hits to pace an 18-hit attack for Grand Junction, which likely wrapped up a spot in the Class 5A state playoffs with its 13-8 victory over the Wildcats.
“This means everything to us now,” Grand Junction coach Si Espinoza said. “Halfway through the season after the Thomas Jefferson tournament, we’re 2-7 and the playoffs were the furthest thing from our minds. We were just trying to find a lineup that would work.
“So for us to go from that point to finish out the season the way we did and likely make the playoffs is huge for our program.”
Grand Junction (10-9, 6-2 Southwestern League) rallied after its inauspicious start, winning eight of their final 10 games and, at one point, six in a row during a three-week span in September. That late-season run vaulted the Tigers to No. 28 in the Colorado High School Activities Association’s Class 5A RPI standings, with Thursday’s win improving their chances of reaching the 32-team state playoff field.
Just as important to Grand Junction’s seniors was their 4-1 record at Bergman this year after going winless on the field last season.
“Yeah. Isn’t that crazy?” Rubalcaba said with a smile. “Doing that is such a confidence boost for us, and we had that confidence going into today, too. There was no doubt.”
There was also no quit from Fruita Monument (7-12, 4-4), which came into the game ranked No. 34 in the RPI standings and needed a victory to give themselves a chance at a postseason berth. Fruita started the season 0-7 but fought back to have a chance to make the playoffs. The Wildcats showed that never-quit attitude Thursday, clawing their way back into the game despite trailing 7-0 in the third inning and 13-5 in the seventh.
“The improvement these girls have made since we opened camp at the beginning of the season is incredible,” coach Bob Bledsoe said. “What I liked was how we kept battling all the way until the last inning, and things like that are significant gains for our program. We’re not going to give in to you. We’re going to battle you all the way until the last out.”
Grand Junction took control with a five-run third inning against Fruita pitcher Brandi Haller, with a two-run single from Rubalcaba and an RBI double from Kali Kisselburgh giving the Tigers a 7-0 cushion. The Wildcats answered in the bottom of the third, however, when Katie Sparks hit a solo home run to center field to spark a four-run Fruita rally. Three of the Wildcats’ runs in the inning were unearned.
Fruita could get no closer as an RBI double from Alexia Thompson extended Grand Junction’s lead to 8-4 in the fifth inning, and Rubalcaba’s second two-run single of the game capped a four-run seventh inning that gave the Tigers a 13-5 lead.
“That was big,” Espinoza said. “When they got as close as 7-4 there, we got big, quality at-bats. And that last inning, us being able to put up a four-spot was huge.”