All season, Rookie baseball is about development. Now there's a championship on the line and it's all about winning.
Then again, it's still Rookie baseball, and that was evident Tuesday as the two best teams in the Pioneer League combined for 21 runs, 37 hits, 12 walks and four errors in a 3-hour, 56-minute marathon, which Great Falls won 12-9 over Grand Junction in the first game of the championship series at Suplizio Field.
It's the same game they've played all summer, but, Hunter Stovall said, it's time to fight for everything.
"It's a little bit different just because of what's on the line, it's the championship on the line," Stovall said. "It's hard when you give up that many runs in the first two innings to do anything. I'm glad we came back and fought, that's what we're going to do. If we get in this position again we're still going to fight and do everything we can to win the game."
Stovall argued his case in the third inning on a check swing, insisting he was hit by the pitch, but home plate umpire Bobby Tassone's initial call was it was a foul ball. As all four umpires conferred, Stovall methodically unwound the wrapping on his right wrist and showed Tassone the mark the ball left. Convinced, Tassone awarded him first base, driving in one run to help the Rockies fight back into the game after they went down 5-0 in the first inning and 10-3 after two.
"It was like a check swing, I didn't intentionally mean for it to hit me, but it just happened," Stovall said, who at first was furious Tessone didn't award him first base. "It's time to fight for everything you're going to get. It's that time of year, every little nick, you're going to fight for it."
That the Rockies were one hit away from tying in the game in the bottom of the ninth is testament to the way they've played all season, battling right down to the final out.
"You give up 10 in the first two innings and still have a chance to win it in the ninth, that's this team," GJ manager Jake Opitz said.
Grand Junction now must sweep a pair of games Thursday and Friday to win their first Pioneer League title in franchise history, but they have to get better starting pitching than they got Tuesday from Eris Filpo.
"We fought, but yeah, we did not get good pitching early. Everything was up, seven hits in the first two, everything was hit hard; he just didn't have it tonight," Opitz said.
Filpo threw plenty of strikes, 34 of 45 pitches, but he left the ball up and over the plate, and the Voyagers made him pay.
They scored five runs on five hits and one error in the first inning, including a mammoth three-run home run halfway up the outfield bleachers by Bryce Bush, putting Great Falls up 4-0.
The Rockies cut the Voyagers' lead to 5-3, but Filpo, who started the second inning, allowed two more hits after getting the first out, and Opitz went to Jesse Stinnett, who also left the ball over the plate too much. By the end of the second, the Voyagers were up 10-3 and the Rockies simply had too big a deficit to overcome.
However, this is the club that rallied time and time again, including in the first game of the South Division series against Ogden, so the Rockies got back into the game with a five-run third inning.
Niko Decolati hit a two-run home run before three straight singles loaded the bases. With two out, Stovall got one run in and Coco Montes followed with a two-run single to left, cutting the deficit to 10-9.
"We were down by one run at one point and they put a couple up the next inning," said Decolati, who went 2 for 4 and drove in three runs. "We were one swing away from being tied or ahead. You've definitely gotta tip your cap to the offense and the fact that we kept fighting."
In the ninth, down 12-9, Grand Junction's resilience again showed. John Cresto lined a double into the right-field corner, and took third on a fly ball to the track in left-center by Will Golsan, after pinch-hitter Reese Berberet struck out.
Stovall worked a walk to bring the tying run to the plate, but Montes, the Pioneer League MVP, struck out.
The Rockies went only 3 for 16 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 men on base.
"Those last three innings we had two guys on, we just couldn't get a hit," Opitz said. "We were right there, we still score nine runs in a playoff game, you still should win."
They'll need to win the final two games of the season to win the championship, but the Rockies believe that's what they can do.
"We have to attack (Thursday) like it's the last game of the year ... not even that," Decolati said. "Just play the same game we've been playing all year, and if we do that, we should win one and move to the next day."