The players were slow to assemble in the morning, then the bus driver took the Braves to Cleveland High School rather than the proper site at Rio Rancho.
Still, SFIS turned in quite a performance behind pitcher Kurt Candelaria. But the Braves were done in by a two-out, bloop single to right field following an error to lose 3-2 to the fourth-seeded Portales Rams.
“We had that big error at short and that little blooper was the deciding factor in the game,” said Braves coach Jude Torres. “My team was the better team, but baseball is a strange sport. I credit my kids, they played hard. That’s the way baseball goes. That one little blooper will always get you, usually after an error.”
Candelaria allowed four hits – all singles, while striking out four.
“That was a lucky hit,” he said of the fourth-inning soft hit to right from Rams pitcher Josiah Lucero that followed the error by shortstop Kye Aguilar and then an extended delay while Rams trainers worked on runner Baylor Diaz’s bloody nose.
“I think we could have handled any team we faced,” Candelaria said. “We’re a competitive team and my teammates can hit. Getting this far is an honor, but I wanted to go farther.”
It was an unfortunate time for a miscue, Torres said.
“He’s been a big part of our team all year,” he said of Aguilar. “He’s sure-handed. It happens.”
The No. 12 Braves (17-12), which had to go on the road to upset New Mexico Military Institute last weekend just to get this far, had its chances, loading the bases in the first and third innings, but managing only one run in each frame.
And that’s what really cost SFIS, Torres said.
“It’s hard to win a game if you leave the bases loaded twice,” he said. “We stranded runners. I think our pitch selection hitting was a little off. We should have jumped on the fastball and left the twister alone. We hit the ball all year and we have come from behind all year, but it was just one of those games. It wasn’t our day today.”
The Braves had one more chance to rally with two outs in the seventh when Abraham Herrera walked and Candelaria hit a liner into left to put runners on the corners.
But Jason Sanchez struck out to end the game.
“In close baseball games like that, you have guys that come through,” said Rams coach Dustin Nusser. “We’re down 1-0 and we have a two-out hit to right field with our pitcher at the plate. We give up a hit here (in the seventh), so it’s first and third with two outs and he strikes the guy out. These are the plays that have to be made. And our kids made those (Thursday).”
Portales (19-10) also met SFIS last season, in the tournament’s opening round.
“We played them in the regional game last year at our place and they had a ton of juniors, so we knew they were going to be a force to be reckoned with this year,” Nusser said. “They were a little under-seeded coming in and they gave NMMI all they could handle in that series, so we knew they were going to be tough. They beat Robertson earlier in the year. They had some really good wins.”
But the Braves could not come up with one more, especially after its late start.
“We were just not on time,” Torres said. “We had trouble getting breakfast down and on the road. Kids, it’s hard to get them to go to bed on time. A lot of distractions. We didn’t get to prepare like we would have liked to. We settled in after the second inning, but those first two innings were rough. We escaped them. They got one run, but of course that’s the deciding factor was that one run.”