Wildcats get much-needed win against rival Grand Junction
Must-win games can bring out the best or worst in teams.
Tuesday night against Grand Junction (13-3, 6-2 Southwestern League), the Fruita Monument High School baseball team needed a win to stay alive in both the race for the SWL title and the second spot in the playoffs.
The Wildcats (10-5, 5-2 SWL) brought their best and thrived under pressure in a convincing 9-1 win against the Tigers at Suplizio Field.
“Right from the start, you could feel we were ready,” Fruita Monument coach Ray McLennan said. “After we lost the first one (to Grand Junction), I knew we would be ready to play.”
The Wildcats were the road team and jumped on Grand Junction starting pitcher Conner Dixon early. After Dixon walked Fruita Monument leadoff hitter TJ Pollock on four pitches, Brackett Mays drove him home three batters later with a line drive double to left field. The hit gave the Wildcats an early 1-0 lead.
“Anytime you are the visitor, you want to score in the first inning,” McLennan said. “Our guys had good approaches at the plate that first inning.”
Grand Junction answered in the bottom of the first. Tim Gastineau scored on a sacrifice fly by Aaron Berk. The Tigers had the bases loaded, but Wildcats starting pitcher Rex Clemons got out of the inning with a strikeout.
Fruita didn’t waste anytime breaking the tie as the Wildcats adding three more runs in the second inning. JJ Russo was able to sneak a ground ball down the third base line to score David Witsken. Later that inning, Alex Mende hit a two-run double to push the Wildcats’ lead to 4-1.
Grand Junction looked to make it an offensive battle as the Tigers had runners on first and second base with no outs. Leadoff hitter Gastineau attempted to move the runners with a bunt, but the ball popped up his bat and Clemons made the catch, then double up
Ty Nielsen at second base.
Fruita broke the game open in the third inning, scoring four runs — highlighted by Witsken’s RBI single. Witsken was part of the bottom half of the Wildcats’ lineup that contributed in a big way. Witsken, the No. 7 hitter, Bell (No. 8) and Russo (No. 9) combined to go 4 for 7 and scored a combined six runs.
“The bottom of the order came through,” Russo said. “The top has been doing a lot of damage, so it’s nice for the bottom to come through and score some runs.”
Once Fruita had its lead, Clemons went to work. The senior pitcher retired the next nine batters, including six consecutive strikeouts. Clemons allowed only two hits and had 11 strikeouts.
“We were never in it from the beginning,” Grand Junction coach Kyle Rush said. “Rex dominated the entire game and our pitchers didn’t do what they needed to.”
After Dixon was pulled in the third inning, Tigers relievers Charlie Reicks and Geoff Baldwin allowed one run the rest of the way.
“We had opportunities in the first couple innings to make it a ball game, and we didn’t,” Rush said. “We got dominated.”
The Tigers are now in a three-way tie for first place with Fruita Monument and Durango. Grand Junction finishes the season with Montrose on Saturday and Central on Tuesday.
The Wildcats have three games left, including a pivotal match up Friday with Durango at Canyon View Park.
“This game was huge,” Clemons said. “This will give us a lot more confidence because we have to win these next ones.”