Making playoff plans

GJ tops Fruita to earn postseason berth

Grand Junction’s Steve Baldwin watches the flight of his go-ahead two-run double Tuesday night in the fourth inning of the Tigers’ 8-4 victory over Fruita Monument at Suplizio Field. The victory over the rival Wildcats allowed the Tigers to clinch a Class 5A playoff berth.

Before he went to bat Tuesday night, Grand Junction High School’s Sean Rubalcaba dug his cleat in the Suplizio Field to form an ‘H.’

That was for Hutton Veatch. It was the best way Rubalcaba could honor his injured teammate.

Then Rubalcaba hit a single. And later a double. By the end of Grand Junction’s 8-4 win over Fruita Monument, a win that clinched a Class 5A playoff berth for the Tigers (13-6, 6-3 Southwestern League), the dirt outside the batter’s box looked like mashed potatoes, and the ‘H’ was gone.

But the tribute had been made.

During a recent batting practice, Rubalcaba swung and the bat slipped from his hands and struck Veatch, the Tigers’ staring first baseman, in the face.

Veatch, who according to Tigers coach Kyle Rush suffered a broken cheek and orbital bone, is out for the season.

So Rubalcaba did what he could in the first high school baseball game under the lights at Suplizio Field.

He played in the dirt.

“I just figured it was the best way to keep him on the field,” Rubalcaba said.

Rubalcaba later cranked a two-run double to right-center field that scored two runs, and Steve Baldwin, in the fourth inning, blasted a two-run double off the left field wall that put the Tigers up 6-4.

It was the final Fruita Monument vs. Grand Junction game for many seniors, including Wildcats’ shortstop Drew Bridges.

He batted against Tigers starting pitcher Casey Burns, hitting a single and driving another pitch to the warning track.

Burns, who tossed a complete game, and Bridges, faced each other in basketball.

After the game, they shook hands and had a quick conversation.

It’s competitive respect — even in the area’s biggest rivalry.

Which for the seniors is over.

“I’d have been kind of upset, even with a win,” Bridges said, “knowing I wouldn’t play in that atmosphere anymore.”

Burns recovered from grind of basketball and made a recent start on the mound in a win against Pueblo South.

Tuesday, he wasn’t shaken when the Tigers gave up three errors in the first two innings and trailed 4-3.

“He just gets up and chucks,” Rush said.

Burns chucked strikes.

And the defense began stabbing balls and throwing ropes and diving to the grass.

“Thank God for the outfielders,” Burns said. “It feels so good knowing they’re out there tracking down balls. That saves so many runs, doubles and triples.”

Marcus Wirth just picked his spot. In the fourth inning, he saw the ball pop off the bat of Fruita’s Matt Scofield and knew the spot where he’d stick an open glove. So he leaped. With a near face-plant, Wirth stabbed the ball before it clipped the grass.

“In my mind, I see the spot,” Wirth said. “I knew I had the jump on the ball and I knew exactly where it was going to land.”

After losing three consecutive games, Grand Junction has won three straight heading into Thursday’s 6 p.m. game at Central.

Fruita Monument (11-7, 5-4) is at Montrose on Thursday at 3:30 p.m.

“We always knew we’d be in the mix,” Wirth said. “Even when we were down, we weren’t thinking negative. But this was huge for us. This win would have been huge for us even if we were 0-4.”


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