The playoff push: Grand Junction, Fruita Monument jockeying for postseason position

Grand Junction High School’s Andy Willett, right, slides safely into home during the sixth inning of the Tigers’ 4-3 win earlier this season over catcher Tanner Denlon and the Central Warriors. Grand Junction is in the playoffs, but to win the Southwestern League, the Tigers will need to defeat Fruita Monument on Friday and have the rival Warriors defeat Montrose on Saturday at Suplizio Field.

Cody Rahmann and the Fruita Monument Wildcats have earned one of the guaranteed playoff spots in Class 5A. Grand Junction earned the top playoff spot from the Southwestern League.

The players’ faces and names change, but the final week of the high school baseball season always seems to remain the same.

For the local teams in the Class 5A Southwestern League, Grand Junction (14-4, 7-2 SWL), Fruita Monument (11-6, 5-4) and Central (6-11, 3-6), the final week is spent either fighting to get into the playoffs — or as in the case this season — jockeying for playoff position.

When Durango and Montezuma-Cortez made the trip last weekend to Grand Junction, the playoff fate for the 5A Grand Valley teams was sealed.

Grand Junction locked up its 10th straight playoff appearance under coach Kyle Rush with a 4-3 win Friday over the Demons. Central’s win Saturday over Durango allowed Fruita Monument to grab the other guaranteed spot in 5A. Only the top two teams in the 5A SWL make the playoffs.

“The two spots are clinched either way you look at it. We are the one and Fruita is the two,” Rush said. “I don’t know if both spots have ever been clinched with a week to go in the season, so this season is kind of unique. Now Fruita and us can look forward to the playoffs.”

If the Tigers can win the SWL, they can possibly help their chances to host a district tournament the following weekend. If the Grand Junction defeats Fruita Monument on Friday and Central defeats Montrose on Saturday at Suplizio Field, the Tigers win the league.

Rush said Grand Junction’s goal is to make the playoffs, but being able to win the league is an added bonus.

“(League titles) are nice and you can’t downplay them, but we put more stock into getting into the playoffs,” Rush said.

If Grand Junction does end up winning the SWL, it will be the fifth time in six years.

For the Tigers to finish atop the league standings, they’ll need rival Central to knock off a tough Montrose team.

Central doesn’t have a strong overall record, but the Warriors are one of the hottest teams in the league. Central has won three of its past four, with wins over Fruita Monument and Durango during that span.

Warriors coach Chuck Yost said his team has stayed competitive because it hasn’t let a lack of success change the team’s approach.

“The kids would approach it the same if we were in or out,” Yost said. “We are competitive, love to play the game, and I don’t know if that’s changed.”

Central is riding a two-game winning streak and Fruita Monument has lost two straight. But the Wildcats are in the playoffs, and according to coach Ray McLennan, playing some of their best baseball all season.

“Even though we’ve lost a few in a row, we aren’t playing that badly,” McLennan said. “You want to be playing well at the end of the year, and we want to do that Friday night (against Grand Junction) to have confidence going into next week.”

After missing the playoffs last season, the Wildcats are back in the postseason, and a win over Grand Junction could improve their playoff seeding. Either way, the Wildcats will have to play on the road, which is something that won’t intimidate them. The Wildcats have a 5-2 record in games played outside of Grand Junction.

“We’ve spent time playing quality teams and we have experience with traveling,” McLennan said. “We feel like we are prepared.”

In 4A, Palisade has clinched a position in the playoffs, but a Western Slope League title might not come as easily. The Bulldogs hurt themselves Monday by splitting their doubleheader with Glenwood Springs. The loss sets up a scenario where the winner of Thursday’s game against Delta could be the WSL champion.

“We have a mandatory win on Thursday,” Palisade coach Steve Moore said. “It’s a huge game (Thursday) and we want to peak and be playing our best baseball heading into the playoffs.”

State playoff brackets will be released May 12.


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