Pure joy: Buddies, players have a blast at Challenger season finale

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Lavonda Roussin, 10, of the River Cats leaps up to high-five her partner Casey Grayson of Navarro College after she scored in the Challenger baseball game against the Volcanos on Thursday at Columbine Park.

Navarro College’s Austin Pruitt, with bat, gets a kick out of the enthusiasm of his partner Cory Carlton, right, after the 14-year-old boy with the Volcanoes hit an inside-the-park-home run during Thursday’s Challenger baseball game against the River Cats at Columbine Park.

Cory Carlton stepped in the batter’s box and didn’t hesitate.

The 14-year-old Grand Junction Challenger baseball player raised his bat and called his shot in the Challenger Program season finale Thursday at Columbine Park. The four Challenger teams played with two of the junior college teams that qualified for the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, which begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at Suplizio Field.

One pitch later, he crushed the ball over all the defensive players’ heads into the outfield and took off around the bases.

He scampered around the bases so fast, not even his buddy, Navarro (Texas) College pitcher Austin Pruitt, could keep up.

“He smoked it,” Pruitt said. “He is way too fast for me. There was no way I could catch up with him.”

Carlton believed he would hit a home run before he stepped in the batter’s box.

“It’s really awesome seeing how they love to be out here and have a good time,” Pruitt said. “We were all excited to help out and be these guys’ buddies.”

Volcanoes player Joey Ragains raced his buddy, Navarro pitcher Sam Stroder, around the bases and proclaimed he was faster.

“He’s real competitive,” Stroder said. “I’m racing him from base to base, asking him what his favorite sports are, how far can he throw it. He’s a real cool kid.

“I really didn’t know what to expect, but I enjoyed it. It’s a lot of fun.These kids share the same passion as we do.”

Grayson County (Texas) College player Garrett Powell has participated as a buddy in a Challenger Program back home, but admitted being a little nervous for Thursday’s Challenger game.

“I came out today and was a little nervous, but I knew once I got through the nerves part it would be fun,” said Powell, who was Rachel Goodrich’s buddy. “She was quiet at first, a little bit timid, then she opened up to me.”

Goodrich’s coach, Jill Almgren, sees it every year.

“Everyone is uneasy at the beginning, but by the end, everyone is having a great time and enjoying it,” Almgren said. “At the end of the games, we sing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’ We look at all the parents’ faces and players’ faces and get goose bumps every week. It’s a great chance for these kids to play and have fun. Everybody is successful and that’s what’s wonderful about it.”


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