Kaleb Johnson pitches Tigers to Fanning win
Last season, Kaleb Johnson pitched a total of 5 2/3 innings over three appearances for the Grand Junction High School baseball team.
Friday, he nearly matched that mark.
Johnson threw five solid innings for the Tigers, striking out six, and led Grand Junction to a 9-3 season-opening win over Greeley Central at Canyon View Park in the Bill Fanning Memorial Classic.
Last season, pitching was an issue for Grand Junction (1-0), with a lack of depth behind Josh Moore, who tallied nearly 40 percent of all innings pitched.
But during his first start, Johnson showed the ability to work deep into a game, struggling with control in only one inning, the fifth.
Tigers coach Donnie Alexander said despite Johnson’s endurance Friday, the Tigers will rely on pitching depth this season.
“We can go six, seven guys deep (with pitching), and every one of them has experience,” Alexander said. “I’ve got confidence in all of them. So, this year, it’s whoever’s number is up. We’re going to run them out there, and they’re going to do a job like K.J. did today. He came out here, threw strikes, set the tone, and Ty Dixon came in behind him and shut them down as well. That’s what we expect out of them, and they know that, and we have confidence in all our guys.
“Last year we had Josh, and we rode him pretty hard. But this year we have a lot of guys that have really stepped up, so I don’t think we’ll see a situation like we had last year with Josh.”
Owen Taylor keyed a five-run first inning with a two-run triple, then scored on an error two batters later. Greeley Central (0-2) committed four errors in the first two innings, and the Tigers scored seven runs on seven hits in that span.
Tristan Lafferty hit a two-out triple in the second inning that sparked a two-run rally. He finished with two hits and two runs.
Every Grand Junction batter reached base at least once, and all but two players contributed to the 10 hits for Grand Junction.
“We’ve been preparing for this one, and, you know, we started in January trying to get our bats going,” Alexander said. “Once we got some weather, we got outside, and I’m really proud of these guys and their preparation. They swung it real well. They stayed with our approach and stayed disciplined. We got some runs and got the result.”
Fruita Monument 6, Horizon 3: Cody Basinger had two hits, including a run-scoring triple, and scored twice to pace Fruita Monument (1-1). Grant Stagg also had two hits and contributed to a four-run first inning.
Fruita Monument coach Ray McLennan said the strong start was all the Wildcats needed, given the pitching Fruita got from a pair of sophomores. Devon Canup threw the first four innings, striking out four and walking three, before giving way to sophomore Sam Schroeder.
“Today we jumped out to that 4-0 lead, and we finished them off,” McLennan said. “I was really excited about how Devon Canup threw for us. Then we brought in another sophomore, Sam Schroeder, and he threw really well.”
Brighton 10, Palisade 2: After pitcher Cameron Campbell helped his own cause with a two-run double in the first inning to give Palisade a 2-0 lead, the senior exited in the third inning with what coach Aaron Howard said was “tenderness” in his left elbow. From then on, Palisade (0-1) struggled, picking up no more hits in the loss.
“We got two runs early and looked to be doing all right,” Howard said. “Then, their kid settled in quite a bit, and we took three pitches in a row. We didn’t swing the bats as much as we should have. We had 12 strikeouts as a team, and what it really boils down to is we didn’t hit very well. We didn’t make them make plays. We need to have confidence up at the plate.”