Tigers thrown a curve

Indians' Lopez finds good curve late in win

Grand Junction’s Dillon Fante delivers a pitch Thursday in the Tigers’ Southwestern League game against Montrose at Canyon View Park.

During the sixth and seventh innings, when batters are supposed to be tougher to strike out because they’ve likely seen a starting pitcher twice, Tyrus Lopez was at his bat-silencing best.

That’s because Grand Junction had not seen the Montrose ace’s curveball yet. Not his good one, anyway.

With command of his curve in the late innings, Lopez repeatedly placed pitches on the corners and struck out six batters in a row to close the game. In turn, the Indians defeated the Tigers 2-1 in a Southwestern League baseball showdown between league contenders.

Montrose, (10-2, 5-2 SWL) kept pace with Fruita Monument (6-2) and Central (3-2) with only two league losses. Grand Junction dropped 10-4, 3-3 SWL.

“It’s big,” Lopez said of Thursday’s win. “We have to keep winning games to win the league, and we have to keep beating 5A teams to help us for (4A) state (playoff seeding).”

It wasn’t the Indians’ best game, but they won it, Montrose coach Landon Wareham said.

“Every league win’s important, and we were mainly focused on playing better baseball,” Wareham said. “We pitched it well and played good defense, but we left way too many runners on base.

“I’m proud of the kids for competing. That’s our goal: to show up, to compete every pitch, every at-bat. We didn’t play our best, but we competed and got the win.”

Lopez felt the same way about his pitching. Early in the game, he couldn’t throw his curve for strikes, so he got by with his fastball and changeup. He issued a walk in the first inning and two walks in the second inning, and in the second, Tyler Heinsma’s run-scoring double gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead.

But Lopez battled through that frame and got a third-out strikeout to strand three Tigers on base.

That was Grand Junction’s last best chance against Lopez, who limited the Tigers to three base runners (a hit, an error and a hit batsman) the rest of the way. He finished with 13 strikeouts.

“Once I found my curveball, it just kind of did it by itself,” Lopez said of his strong finish.

He also plated the winning run in the top of the seventh inning on a sacrifice fly with one out and the bases loaded.

Grand Junction starting pitcher Dillon Fante was tagged with the hard-luck loss.

After limiting Montrose to a run and five hits through six innings, Fante hit No. 9 hitter Kurtis McCall with a pitch to open the seventh.

Kameron DeVincentis followed with a bunt that became an infield single instead of a sacrifice, and Josh Robertson drilled a 1-2 pitch up the middle for a single to load the bases.

That ended Fante’s outing, and reliever Ty Dixon struck out No. 3 hitter Pete Shearer for the first out.

Lopez, however, hit a full-count offering into shallow center field, and Montrose sent McCall from third base. There was no play at the plate, though, because the throw from the outfield was low and had to be cut near the pitcher’s mound.

Grand Junction coach Donnie Alexander praised Fante for keeping the Tigers in the contest.

“What a fantastic job by Dillon Fante on the mound today,” Alexander said. “His heart was humongous. When he was struggling, he dug deep. He battled.”

Alexander said the Tigers didn’t get timely hits. For that matter, they didn’t put the ball in play enough.

Although it was tough to lose and fall behind in the SWL title chase, Alexander reminded his players they’re still in contention.

“Every one of these games from here on out is important,” he said.


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