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Grand Junction clinches first-half title07/28/2013 1:57 AM ET
By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com
The Grand Junction Rockies have hardly been obsessed with winning, but they've piled up plenty of victories all the same.
"I don't think I've mentioned to these kids one day anything about winning or pressure to win," manager Anthony Sanders said. "We keep it really light here and I think this coaching staff provides a priceless atmosphere for them to develop."
That may be, but the atmosphere also has cultivated a 21-14 record and the first-half title in the Pioneer League South Division. That mark was good enough that the Rockies claimed the crown Saturday night, despite losing to Idaho Falls, 5-3. They clinched when second-place Orem was beaten by Ogden.
"It's a well-deserved effort by a lot of these kids and the coaching staff, too," Sanders said. "We're really excited here."
Grand Junction is tied for the league lead with a .290 team batting average and ranks second with 32 home runs.
"We hit the ground running with a lot of these kids we have. They've been being aggressive and we've been letting the offense play," Sanders said. "Lee Stevens, our hitting coach, has done a real good job, and also with a lot of our Latin kids coming from the Dominican [Summer League], you have to give credit to that coaching staff."
The Rockies also boast the circuit's top hitter in Raimel Tapia, who's batting .380 and on Saturday night extended his hitting streak to a league season-high 25 games.
"Anybody who's had a chance to see him knows what we're dealing with," Sanders said. "He's full of talent on both sides of the ball. When he's hitting or on the bases, he really pressures the defense."
But the skipper believes the productive bats only tell half the story of his team's success.
"We have fine starting pitchers who've given us a chance to win every single night. They've kept us in the ballgame every single night," Sanders said. "I can't point out one or two of these guys, everybody has taken advantage of opportunities and it's been a real team effort. It really has."
Helena wrapped up the Northern Division first-half title earlier this week.