Fruita overcomes blowing 5-run lead to beat rival GJ
In the span of three outs Tuesday night, the Fruita Monument High School baseball team saw its five-run lead disappear. But timely pitching and an extra-innings rally lifted the Wildcats past rival Grand Junction for 7-6 victory in eight innings at Suplizio Field.
The lead was erased in the top of the seventh based on a few factors. As temperatures dipped into the 40s, Wildcats ace Trey Morrill expended a lot of energy just trying to stay warm on the mound.
After six sharp innings and a rocky start to the seventh, Ray McLennan turned to Cade Oxford, who had to contend with the same low temperatures without the benefit of an inning to find his rhythm. It was also the first inning where Grand Junction strung together back-to-back hits.
After a clean top of the eighth, Fruita’s Tyler Boggs narrowly missed a lead-off home run in the bottom of the frame. The ball clipped the top of the tall fence in left field, inches from passing over. Boggs settled for a double, Kohl Hagee was hit by a pitch, then Gavin Brown laid down a flawless bunt up the first-base line to load the bases. Druw Sackett then hit a walk-off single that landed at the base of the fence in the right-center field gap.
“I was just looking for a pitch to drive,” Sackett said. “Something I could drive or just put over the infielders. Just trying to score a run and that’s it.”
The initial swing in momentum didn’t shake the Wildcats (7-4, 1-0 Southwestern League), even as the Tigers (7-4, 0-1) scored five runs in the top of the seventh to tie it 6-6.
Grand Junction’s rally was sparked by Andrew Mantlo, who was hit by a pitch and immediately stole second base. After a strikeout, Chavis Nourse drew a walk and Gage Fransen hit a run-scoring double. Another run scored on a fielder’s choice. The Tigers trailed 6-3, then Grand Junction battled with two outs. Andrew Hansen and Derek Shaver hit singles, Jax Nourse drew a walk, and Shawn Garcia stroked a two-run single to left field to tie the game. Oxford preserved, though, and a flyout ended the inning.
After a quiet bottom of the seventh, Oxford faced only three batters and accounted for each out — striking out the first two batters he faced and scooping up a grounder for the third out.
That set the stage for Fruita’s victory, and Wildcats coach Ray McLennan he was happy with the way Morrill pitched and Oxford battled.
“The cold factored a bit into Trey coming out,” McLennan said. “You could see him getting a little tired. I have a lot of confidence in Cade because he’s been good for us all spring. He’s a guy who’s been a starter, so we haven’t used him in that situation, coming on in relief. I didn’t think he was maybe warmed up in the first inning, because I thought he was a lot sharper in the second inning he pitched out there.
“We needed to be able to get the two outs there when Cade came in. He’s a senior and we have to lean on those guys because we don’t have a lot of them. He looked a lot better in the eighth than he did in the seventh, and that’s something we’re going to have to go to again later in the season.”
Morrill pitched 6 1/3 innings, allowing four runs with eight strikeouts and three walks.
Grand Junction coach Justin Little said Morrill pitched well, but the Tigers need to change their approach at the plate before facing Fruita again at 6 p.m. on Thursday at Suplizio Field.
“(Morrill) pitched good, but our approach today was not very good until the later innings,” Little said. “That’s something that we need to change. We’re going to be working on it tomorrow and come back Thursday with a better approach.”