Jake Opitz likes baseball teams that battle to the end.
That's what the Grand Junction Rockies did Friday night, and even though their ninth-inning rally fell short, the skipper was smiling after a 5-4 loss to Great Falls at Suplizio Field.
"Good fight, I like seeing that," Opitz said. "We didn't play very good baseball today all around, missed some cutoffs, an error (on a pickoff throw) and an error at short, but at the same time we had a chance to win it in the ninth. I'm happy. It's a good day because it's a game we can learn from; I'll take it."
Jack Yalowitz nearly walked it off, sending a two-out fly ball deep to right field with the tying run at third base. Luis Mieses caught it on the warning track, ending the Voyagers' eight-game road losing streak.
Down 5-2 in the ninth, the Rockies (14-12) had Suplizio rocking as they rallied. Owen Taylor fell behind in the count, but worked a leadoff walk, and Colin Simpson, who subbed in to catch for Jacob Barnwell in the eighth inning, hit a broken-bat single to third. The Voyagers had the left-handed slugger played to pull, and shifted the infield, leaving third base open.
Yolki Pena, who is hitting .412 in his past 10 games, stayed hot, going 2 for 3. Great Falls also played him to pull to the right side, but he stroked a double to left, scoring Taylor and sending Simpson to third.
Cristopher Navarro grounded out to second, scoring Simpson to cut the lead to 5-4 and put the tying run at third. Eddy Diaz struck out before Yalowitz's bid for his second home run in as many nights came up just a few feet short.
"It starts with Owen's at-bat, down 0-2 or 1-2 and gets a walk and Tank (Simpson) finds a hole," Opitz said. "That's part of the game. Yolki steps up and Navarro has a great at-bat.
"Eddy chased a little bit, got a little anxious, I think, and Yalo gave it a pretty good ride to right field. We had a chance to walk 'em off. It didn't happen, but at the same time, a good development game."
Christian Koss continued to provide the steady bat for the Rockies, going 3 for 3 and getting hit with a pitch. He scored only once, on the second home run of his career — his first was Thursday — another opposite-field shot to right, leading off the second.
Pena walked and scored in the fifth on a double to right by Diaz, who was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a triple.
Alex Haynes allowed one run in the third and a solo home run in the fourth, leaving down 2-1, but after Grand Junction tied it up, Cayden Hatcher couldn't keep the Voyagers at bay.
"Haynes started out really good, gave up one run and the solo home run in the third, but he was fine," Opitz said. Haynes allowed two runs on five hits, didn't walk a batter and struck out five.
"Hatcher didn't have his best tonight. He was cruising with two quick outs and then the error and he had to work through that first inning. I don't know if he was tired, but he was up in the zone tonight and got hit, and then obviously the error. He faced a lot of traffic tonight."
Hatcher allowed back-to-back singles to lead off the sixth, and his pickoff throw trying to keep Mieses close was a fastball that sailed past Taylor, allowing Lency Delgado to score from second.
Another base hit got Mieses home and gave Great Falls (10-14) a 4-2 lead. Hatcher (2-3) gave up another run in the seventh, and the Rockies left two stranded in scoring position in the bottom of the inning.
Taylor singled, and with one out, Pena beat out a bunt and both runners moved up another base on an errant throw trying to get Pena at first. Navarro lifted a fly ball to right, but it wasn't deep enough to score Taylor. The throw to the plate was on line, but it skipped past catcher Klyder Sanchez, but Taylor was back at the bag and couldn't take advantage.
"That's one of those plays at third base, you've got to read that throw," Opitz said. "We're not going to go there, we're down by three, we don't want to make an out there, but at the same time you've got to read that throw when it squirts by, hopefully we can move up and score a run and get another runner on third, create some havoc.
"We've got stuff to talk about tomorrow."