Short memory lifts Tigers
Prall's clutch 2B after two missed bunts helps GJ top Central
With runners on first and second with no outs Tuesday night, Levi Prall, a sophomore on the Grand Junction High School baseball team, flubbed two bunt attempts with his team down one run. But sitting with an 0-2 count, Prall quickly forgot about the missed bunts as he laced a double into an outfield gap to lift the Tigers to a 7-6 victory over Central.
Prall called it “flushing” the first two pitches.
“I mean, it’s baseball. It kinda happens,” Prall said. “Coach does a great job of just telling us to flush it and get up there, 0-2 and ready to hit, ready to play. That’s all I was thinking about.”
After an early season full of wild endings — and notable, late-game losses to Paonia and Fruita Monument — Grand Junction coach Justin Little said Prall’s approach was a perfect example of the progress the Tigers (8-6, 1-2 Southwestern League) have made.
Little wants a mentally tough team and he said it was visible against the Warriors (10-5, 2-3).
“That’s one thing we’ve been talking about for a week now, since our last game — our mental toughness, mental approach,” Little said. “A lot of kids, after those first two strikes, would kinda be down on themselves and give up a little bit. Testament to Levi. Came back, fouled one off, then roped one to the gap.”
The mental toughness aspect extended to starting pitcher Derek Shaver, who battled through errors and tough fielding plays through six innings.
The sophomore allowed six runs — only three earned — with three strikeouts and two walks. On top of three errors, the sun peeking onto the field from behind the press tower at Suplizio Field made fielding line drives and choppers at third base nearly impossible.
Shaver and Central starting pitcher Caleb Dwyer were strong in a back-and-forth battle and Little said he was happy with the way Shaver fought.
“When he’s on, he’s really hard to hit,” Little said. “(Central) did a good job putting bats on the ball. You have to give them credit for that. They made us make plays and we didn’t make some of them. But Derek mixed it up good today and battled all day.”
After two scoreless innings with both pitchers firmly in rhythm, Central struck first in the top of the third when Dylan Brown scrambled home on a throwing error. With two outs, Grand Junction’s first baseman went to his knees to stop a ground ball, but couldn’t connect with Shaver at first.
Grand Junction answered in a more offensive fashion in the bottom of the third, when Sergio Moreno dropped a one-run double along the line in right.
For the next three innings, both teams traded rallies.
Central’s surge started in the top of the fourth when, with runners on second and third, a wild pitch careened into the third-base dugout, allowing a run to score. Paul Salazar then hit a double deep to center to extend the Warriors’ advantage to 3-1.
Grand Junction got one run back in the bottom of the frame on an infield single and Central posted two more in the top of the fifth on a balk and a fielder’s choice. The Tigers tied it 5-5 with three runs in the bottom of the fifth on a rally started by leadoff hitter Andrew Hansen.
The senior laid down a perfect bunt single up the third-base line, a sacrifice bunt from Moreno moved him over and an impromptu hit-and-run allowed him to score. Hansen broke for third before Dwyer delivered the pitch, but the pitcher fired it home without noticing. Shaver rolled a soft grounder where Central’s third baseman had been before Hansen’s steal attempt and the ball skipped through for a one-run single. A fielder’s choice and a shallow single from Andrew Mantlo tied the game 5-5.
Central retook the lead on a sacrifice fly in the sixth before Grand Junction came roaring back in the seventh.
“This win is huge,” Little said. “We needed something like this to get us rolling and hopefully it does kickstart us for the rest of the season.”