Tigers’ determination

GJ seniors confident heading into state tournament

Elisha Jahnke and the Grand Junction softball team open the Class 5A state tournament with last year’s runner-up, Dakota Ridge. Despite a low seed, the Tigers’ senior-laden team has confidence it can compete with the state’s best teams. Jahnke will be in the circle for Grand Junction, trying to outduel Dakota Ridge’s Rachelle Foos.



QUICKREAD

Advantages of seniority

Grand Junction senior catcher Morgan Zanski said the dynamic of having eight seniors on the team made a difference this season in many ways as the Tigers qualified for the state softball tournament for the first time in 22 years.

Chief among them, she said, is, “We have that hunger this year.”

Besides that, she rattled off:

■ “If somebody’s down, there’s always someone who’s going to pick you up.”

■ “We trust each other, and I think that makes a huge difference. And we play more relaxed because we’re so comfortable.”

■ “We’ve just grown up a lot and found out our strengths and weaknesses and learned how to cope with things.”

■ “You have that reality check that it’s so close to being over that you want to go out with a bang, no matter what.”

And last but not least among the advantages of having a group that’s been together so long, she said, “It makes it really fun.”

Senior center fielder Bree Baldwin added the state berth is a great final chapter for the seniors.

“Half of us have been playing together since we were really little,” she said, “and there’s nothing better than that, being able to do it together.”

Class 5A state tournament

No. 13 Grand Junction (17-5) vs. No. 4 Dakota Ridge (18-3)

First round, 10 a.m. today, at Aurora Sports Complex

Winner advances to 2:30 p.m. quarterfinal today against No. 5 Legacy (16-5) or No. 12 Chatfield (13-9).

The coaches

Grand Junction — Adam Diaz. Dakota Ridge — Marv Van Lingen.

About Grand Junction

Leading hitters (regular-season statistics)

Elisha Jahnke, sr., P — .444 average, 28 hits, 21 RBI, 8 doubles, 2 home runs.

Brittany Arcieri, jr., 1B — .444 average, 20 hits, 12 runs, 5 doubles, 7 steals.

Bree Baldwin, sr., CF — .424 average, 25 hits, 9 RBI, 18 runs, 5 doubles, triple, 1 home run, 13 steals.

Marisa Arrieta, jr., SS — .400 average, 18 hits, 7 RBI, 12 runs, 4 doubles.

Shafer Rubalcaba, sr., 3B — .379 average, 22 hits, 12 RBI, 9 runs, 2 doubles, 6 steals.

Morgan Zanski, sr., C — .340 average, 18 hits, 12 RBI, 5 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run.

Kylie Burns, sr., RF — .328 average, 19 hits, 14 RBI, 20 runs, 3 triples, 2 home runs.

Pitching

Elisha Jahnke, sr. — 17 games, 14 starts, 11-4 record, 2.66 ERA, 102 2/3 innings, 97 hits, 21 walks, 17 hit batters, 83 strikeouts.

Haley Hutto, fr. — 4 games, 4 starts, 4-0 record, 3.13 ERA, 22 1/3 innings, 21 hits, 6 walks, 1 hit batter, 19 strikeouts.

Notes

■ The Tigers won the Southwestern League championship with an 8-2 record.

■ Zanski recently verbally committed to play softball for Adams State University.

■ Jahnke plans to play for Salt Lake Community College next year.

■ Baldwin said she’s never faced Jahnke’s change-up, but she gets a great view of it from center field. “I do know how good it is,” she said. “It’s deadly when she’s on.”

Jahnke said she gained command of her change-up as a junior, and, “This year I’m more confident to where I’m using it a lot more.”

About Dakota Ridge

Leading hitters (regular-season statistics)

Dani Valerio, jr., CF — .500 average, 30 hits, 12 RBI, 25 runs, 2 doubles, 5 triples, 14 walks, 15 steals.

Baillie Brooks, jr., 3B/C — .444 average, 28 hits, 23 RBI, 17 runs, 9 doubles, 1 triple, 3 home runs.

Megan Sansburn, soph., SS — .453 average, 29 hits, 23 RBI, 18 runs, 5 doubles, 4 triples, 3 home runs, 7 walks, 8 steals.

Cassidy Creekmore, jr., DH — .436 average, 24 hits, 23 RBI, 16 runs, 4 doubles, 1 triple, 6 home runs.

Rachelle Foos, sr., P — .373 average, 19 hits, 11 RBI, 13 runs, 5 doubles, 2 home runs.

McKenna Pendergraft, sr., 1B — .346 average, 18 hits, 4 RBI, 12 runs, 2 doubles, 1 home run.

Nichole Horan, sr., 2B/C — .323 average, 10 hits, 3 RBI, 3 doubles.

Jessica Arneach, jr., OF — .314 average, 16 hits, 9 RBI, 10 runs, 1 double, 1 triple.

Pitching

Rachelle Foos, sr. — 17 games, 16 starts, 14-2 record, 1.40 ERA, 105 innings, 69 hits, 21 walks, 2 hit batters, 117 strikeouts.

Notes

■ The Eagles are at state for the third straight year and were the 5A state runner-up last season, losing 3-1 to Loveland in the championship game.

■ Dakota Ridge finished 7-1 in the 5A Jefferson County League, tying Ralston Valley for the top spot.

■ The Eagles have won eight games in a row since a 2-1 loss to Ralston Valley on Sept. 17. They beat Fruita Monument 9-2 and Chatfield 8-2 to win their region tournament.



Elisha Jahnke saw it Saturday when Grand Junction trailed Columbine by several runs early in their first-round regional game: the determination borne of a last chance.

The Tigers fought back to win that game 9-6, and Jahnke is positive the comeback was motivated greatly by a senior-laden lineup that sensed the urgency of the team’s situation.

A loss would have made the Tigers’ bid to qualify for the state softball tournament much more difficult. Instead, the Tigers advanced to the regional championship game, where they lost 12-2 to Fossil Ridge, then bounced back to beat Columbine one more time, 2-0, for second place and the second qualifier to state.

It is Grand Junction’s first trip to state since 1991, according to CHSAA records, and it’s only the second time the team has qualified for the state tournament.

Jahnke said the finality of this season registered with the team’s eight seniors in the regional opener.

“We said, ‘We can’t lose this game,’ ” Jahnke said. “This is our last chance to go to state.”

Seven of those seniors are starters, and most of them started a year ago. Some started as sophomores. They were members of two good Grand Junction teams that fell short of realizing the state dream. This year, they wanted a different outcome because this time around there would be no next year.

“We just fought and worked that much harder,” Jahnke said. “We all wanted to prove we could do this.”

The reward is a first-round game at 10 a.m. today against Dakota Ridge, the No. 4 seed in the field of 16 teams at Aurora Sports Complex.

The Tigers are seeded 13th, and that designation means little to them.

“We’re going in with confidence,” Grand Junction senior catcher Morgan Zanski said. “They’re a solid team. They have a really good pitcher, so we’re going to have to come out on top of our game with our sticks.”

Dakota Ridge’s ace, Rachelle Foos, went 14-2 with a 1.40 ERA during the regular season. The senior struck out 117 batters and walked only 21 in 105 innings.

The Tigers bring a good pitcher to the party, too. Jahnke went 11-4 in the regular season and delivered the shutout in Grand Junction’s second game against Columbine to earn the state berth. Jahnke is a control pitcher, walking only 21 batters in 102 2/3 innings, and her change-up can be devastating.

“If her change-up is on, if she’s throwing her off-speed for strikes, that’s a game-changer,” Tigers coach Adam Diaz said.

He added his team plays excellent defense behind her, giving her confidence to go after batters.

Dakota Ridge swings some big bats and hit .380 during the regular season. Chief among the big hitters are junior center fielder Dani Valerio, sophomore shortstop Megan Sansburn, and junior designated hitter Cassidy Creekmore.

Valerio is hitting a team-best .500 with 30 hits, including five triples, and she has team highs in runs (25) and stolen bases (15). Sansburn is batting .453 with three home runs among her 12 extra-base hits. And Creekmore is batting .436 with a team-high six home runs.

Grand Junction, meanwhile, hit .359 as a team during the regular season and has four starters hitting above .400: Jahnke, .444; junior first baseman Brittany Arcieri, .444; senior center fielder Bree Baldwin, .424; and junior shortstop Marisa Arrieta, .400.

Dakota Ridge was the state runner-up a year ago, and most of the teams in the field are seeded higher than Grand Junction, but Diaz said the Tigers are capable of playing with anyone in the tournament.

“There’s no team that stands out,” Diaz said. “We have a great shot that first game. We have to go out there and not make mistakes ... If we go out there and play and relax, go out there and play our level of ball and make them earn it, give them nothing, we can compete with anyone.”

Baldwin thinks like her coach and said the Tigers fear no challenge. She said Grand Junction even would welcome a rematch with Fossil Ridge.

“I really would,” she said. “I’d love to play that team again.”

She also believes the seniors are a determined bunch, which is why they’re in the position they’re in today.

“I want to say we’ve been out for blood a little bit this year,” Baldwin said. “We wanted to prove we’re good enough to get to state.”


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