Weather, Rox gang up on Great Falls

GJ snaps two-game skid with lightning-shortened win

Grand Junction Rockies center fielder Raimel Tapia, right, connects on a two-run triple in the fourth inning of Monday’s 4-1 win over the Great Falls Voyagers at Suplizio Field.

Grand Junction Rockies left fielder Cole Norton hauls in a fly ball against the fence in foul ground. Lightning brought Monday night’s game to an early end.

Grand Junction Rockies starting pitcher Jon Gray works against the Great Falls Voyagers in the Rockies’ lightning-shortened 4-1 win on Monday.

Cole Norton crashed into the tarp in foul territory.

He slid feet-first into the wall in front of the stands in the left-field corner. He chased balls that, on a normal day, might be routine fly balls, but Monday were blown well into foul territory.

The Grand Junction Rockies’ left fielder caught two, with the third slipping out of his grasp when he slid feet-first into the wall.

And he had a great time.

“With the wind blowing dust and stuff around the field, the ball had a mind of its own. Days like that are a little fun, especially in the outfield,” Norton said after the Rockies beat Great Falls 4-1 in a lightning-shortened game.

“A lot of times you don’t get a lot of fly balls. I was happy to get three or four in the few innings we played and made the most of it. It always helps the pitchers when you make those plays in foul territory to keep the pitch count down so I was trying to do what I could.”

Rain started to fall in the fifth inning, but then came the lightning. A few bolts scattered around the area had game officials keeping close watch until one large, frighteningly close bolt north of Suplizio Field sent the teams off the field and fans hustling for cover.

After a 47-minute delay, the game was called and the Rockies (15-10) had snapped their two-game losing streak.

Raimel Tapia was hoping the game would resume — he’s in the midst of a 16-game hitting streak and the ball looks as big as a grapefruit right now. He figured in all four of the Rockies’ runs.

“He wanted to keep playing because he wanted to get a home run for the cycle,” said Carlos Esteves, translating for Tapia. “Yeah, it’s going to be hard to (hit a home run to) right field, but he said he could hit it to left.”

Tapia doubled down the right-field line to lead off the first inning, moved to third on Zach Osborne’s groundout and scored on Jose Briceno’s single to the hole at short.

Tapia, whose 3-for-3 night raised his average from .386 to .407, singled home Jairo Rosario in the second, then drilled a two-run triple into the wind in right-center in the fourth.

“When he got in there he felt confident and really excited to hit,” Esteves said of Tapia. “He’s seeing the ball really big and he’s not going to let anything get him out.”

The position players met before the game and shook off their past two games, returning to their more aggressive nature at the plate.

“We knew (Great Falls starter Andrew Mitchell) was going to throw fastballs and we knew he has a good off-speed pitch,” said Norton, who singled in the second and walked and scored in the fourth.

“We were going to hunt fastballs for the most part and put them in play and they either made a good play on them or we got hits out of them.”

Jon Gray, the Rockies’ first-round draft pick, made his second start, throwing 46 pitches, 34 for strikes.

He snuck in a couple of sliders, but stuck with his fastball, which had the stadium radar gun flashing 97 and 96 on back-to-back pitches on a first-inning strikeout. The stadium radar gun is usually 2-3 mph slower than the scouts’ guns.

“I feel pretty good, better all around,” Gray said. “I trusted my secondary pitch a lot more, too. I got ahead of a lot of guys, I got behind some, but as long as I’m making steps forward I feel good.

“Only two sliders and that’s really rare. I’m so used to throwing sliders. I’m working on the changeup and it’s coming along.”

Gray went 2 2/3 innings, allowing one run in the second inning. He struck out four and didn’t walk a batter.

Jacob Newberry finished the third and Devin Burke (4-0) threw two scoreless innings of relief.

“It is tough; I’m a competitor,” Gray said of being on a low pitch count. “I want to go back out there, but I know they’re not going to let me, so I’m just going to keep building and my pitch count is going to keep going up.”

Notes: The GJ Rockies increased their lead to two games over Ogden in the Pioneer League South with 13 games left in the first half. Ogden (13-12) lost 9-7 to Helena on Monday. Helena moved one game ahead of Great Falls in the North. ... Kiel Roling, a Central High School graduate, hit his 45th home run as a member of the Tulsa Drillers on Monday, a club record.


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