The Grand Junction Trojans’ 13-and-under baseball season was teeming with titles, “taters” and treasured memories.
The travel club in June wrapped up its most successful season to date. The Trojans went 42-6-1, outscored their opponents 562-210 (an 11.5-4.3 average), won four tournaments and placed second in two more, had a 25-game winning streak at one point in the season, hit .458 as a team, and ultimately took second place in the USSSA Majors Colorado state tournament.
“The big thing, for me as a coach, is the success of all 10 of these kids was amazing,” said Trojans coach Kenny Johnson. “We made it to the finals of every tournament except for one. We just had one bad day. The games that we lost, three or four of them were by one run in a walkoff. For the most part, this team had just an unbelievable season. It was fun to be a part of.”
The program’s already tasted success under Johnson, winning the state championship at 10U in 2017 and taking second place in 2018. In 11U play in 2019, the Trojans won 38 of their 50 games before a first-round exit at the state tournament.
After the COVID-19 pandemic halted the team’s season after a 12-12 start last year, the 2021 team made every moment together count, not only in team chemistry, but on the scoreboard.
One factor that helped the Trojans improve this year was some added talent that bolstered their roster and contributed significantly — and immediately.
“Adding two players that we added, Sean Witt and Hunter Howard, really helped,” Johnson said. “We had always been really, really solid. We always had pretty good hitting, pretty good pitching, but adding Sean on the mound and offensively, and Hunter behind the plate, really went well with the rest of our team.”
Witt was the Trojans’ top pitcher, striking out 94 batters and allowing 16 runs with a 1.24 ERA in 50 innings. He was just as effective at the plate with a .642 batting average, 21 doubles, 10 triples, 19 home runs — or “taters,” as the team calls them — and 82 RBI.
Witt is a kid of few words, described by Johnson as “humble.” He prefers to let his production on the diamond do the talking.
“This was my first year on the team, so I still think I have stuff to improve on, but defensively, I think I did pretty good,” Witt said. “Hitting, I think I did pretty good, too.”
The Trojans’ other top pitcher, Andrew Henderson, is the far more vocal option on the mound, having been a team captain for five years. By the end of this season, he was the team’s primary closer.
“We had a lot of really good talent, but we didn’t have any way to really bring out the energy, so I really tried to take that and be the person that would pick up the energy, bring everybody up, be the good teammate who has everybody play as best as they can and have fun and have the best energy they can when they’re playing,” Henderson said. “It’s not all about winning. It’s about having a good time.”
Like Witt, Henderson was also solid at the plate, hitting .563 with 14 home runs and 80 RBI. Their total skill sets made Johnson’s job much easier and also allowed for more experimentation with the lineup.
“They both pitched eight innings apiece in the state tournament, which is the max you can go,” Johnson said. “Those two being able to do that allowed us to piece in other pitchers in different spots, just the depth that they brought to us. We had always been really strong, but we got deeper with those guys on the team.”
Johnson’s son, Tyler, was the team’s first baseman and one of the team’s defensive standouts, even if his stature isn’t that of a typical first baseman.
“He’s not the tallest guy on the team, which is usually what you get at first base, but his defensive abilities really saved us a ton this year,” the coach said.
Only two players the Trojans won’t have back next season, Owen Richards and Easton Embrey, who will start high school in the fall. Everyone else will be back and looking to win the state title, especially since it will be the final year for the Trojans with much of their current lineup.
“I’m sad that it’s over, but I’m happy that I get another year with these guys,” Johnson said. “We go to 14U next year and these guys will be moving on to high school the year after that.
“Five years together, going on six next year, it’ll be tough. We should contend for the state championship again next year. We’ll take the next three months off and then we’ll pick it up in October for about three weeks. We’ll go to Vegas for a tournament. Middle of January, we’ll start practicing again, and come spring break, we’ll be rocking and rolling.”
Although the team’s season ended in June, Witt, Howard and Tyler Johnson extended their baseball experiences into this month thanks to their success in USA Baseball’s National Team Identification Series.
The three, along with Kenny Johnson, flew to Los Angeles last weekend for the second round of tryouts. Tyler Johnson advanced in the 12U category, making him one of the 32 players to make the 12U Southwest regional team.
Tyler Johnson will play with the Southwest squad in Cary, N.C., the home of USA Baseball, Aug. 18-22.
“It feels really good,” he said. “It’s like all the time and effort I’ve put in is just really starting to pay off.”
Kenny Johnson was notified Saturday evening that neither Witt nor Howard made the 13U Southwest regional team.
“I think it’s pretty cool because you get to go where MLB players will be,” Witt said before going to the tryout. “I think it would be cool to make it as far as I can go with this team.”
One of the Trojans’ other leading hitters, Zyler Fazzi, made the 13U USSSA All-Southwest team and is playing in a tournament in Florida starting today.