PaddleHeads vs. Rockies

Missoula shortstop Kamron Willman fields a ball during the Pioneer League baseball game between the Missoula PaddleHeads and Grand Junction Rockies Monday at Ogren-Allegiance Park.

MISSOULA — Tough defensive luck doomed the Missoula PaddleHeads late Monday night in their bid to extend the Pioneer League championship series.

Grand Junction broke a 4-4 tie in the sixth on a close play at the plate following a near-miss on a fly ball tracked by right fielder Lamar Sparks. Then a bases-loaded error by third baseman Cam Thompson in the eighth opened the door for three insurance runs for the Rockies.

Grand Junction added two more in the ninth and emerged with a 10-4 win for the franchise's first league title since 1981 (the team was known as the Butte Copper Kings back then).

Playing in front of about 1,500 fans, Missoula lost the best-of-3 series, 2-0, and was denied in its bid to repeat as league champs.

The Rockies piled up 22 runs and 27 hits in their two series wins in Zootown. Missoula wasn't far behind with 21 hits, but wasn't as good defensively or on the mound.

PaddleHeads manager Michael Schlact used five pitchers Monday. Starter Mitch Sparks allowed four runs on four hits in four frames. Cody Thompson came on in relief and he was saddled with the loss after allowing the go-ahead run in the sixth.

Ian Kahaloa earned the win in relief of Jimmy Dobras, who allowed four runs on six hits in the first 4 1/3 innings. Kahaloa went 1 2/3 innings and did not allow a run.

The series marked the end of the road in a PaddleHeads uniform for standouts Nick Gatewood and Brandon Riley. Under league rules, a player cannot participate after he has played in four pro seasons. Theoretically, a player could play for Missoula four years. Gatewood and Riley both have four years of pro experience, but only two in Missoula.  

Gatewood led the PaddleHeads at the plate Monday with a home run, triple and an RBI. Keaton Greenwalt also had a home run. 

Bill Speltz is Missoulian Sports Editor and has served as Sunday columnist the past 15 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

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