And while Saturday’s Class 6A softball championship might be remembered by some in attendance at the UNM Softball Complex for a series of umpiring decisions that flustered top-seeded Volcano Vista, it was also clear that No. 7 Las Cruces was the better team on the season’s final day.
Junior pitcher Anisah Triste shut down the Hawks, going the distance in the 8-6 and 12-2 wins. She struck out seven in the clincher while also going 5-for-7 at the plate over the course of the two games with three doubles, a walk and three runs scored.
“Our sticks came through,” Triste said.
It was the first title for the Bulldawgs (21-11) since 2013.
After losing to Volcano Vista 8-4 on Friday in the double-elimination tournament, Las Cruces scored first in each game Saturday and never trailed.
“After that first game (Friday), we changed some things, changed our approach a little bit,” said LCHS coach Alex Romero. “Today, we took a few more pitches. We weren’t as disciplined at the plate (Friday), and we had to score first. Put the pressure on, and we did.”
Triste loved the early cushion.
“It helped me a lot settling down and just focusing on pitching,” she said.
The story of Saturday for non-Las Cruces fans might have more to do with their own pitchers.
Brook Leger, the Volcano Vista pitcher who helped carry the Hawks to the championship bracket by striking out 14 Cleveland Storm hitters Thursday and seven Las Cruces hitters Friday, was called for three illegal pitches in Game One on Saturday. Umpires said she was lifting her trail leg slightly off the ground when pushing off the rubber.
Out of sorts having to change mechanics she used all season, Leger was pulled and did not start Game Two.
In Game Two, Alyssa Rosales started and was pulled in the third inning after struggling. Emily Dix relieved her and also struggled, and Rosales returned. By the sixth inning, with Las Cruces leading 7-2, the Hawks tried Leger again with the bases loaded.
Pitch 1 was called an illegal for Leger, leading to a run scored and an 8-2 Las Cruces lead.
Pitch 2, another illegal pitch and another run scored, making it 9-2 Las Cruces.
Volcano fans, coaches and players were beside themselves. Senior third baseman Jacklyn Garcia, who the inning prior smacked a solo home run over the right field scoreboard, kicked dirt on an umpire and was ejected.
Leger was pulled, and sophomore Audrey Jim finished the game for the Hawks.
“That’s not what lost the game,” Volcano Vista coach J.J. Garcia said of the illegal pitches. “It had something to do with it, but I can’t put blame, and I won’t put blame (on that). The young ladies from Las Cruces came to play.”
But there was an understandable feeling of frustration, even if the pitch was truly illegal, that it wasn’t called all season, or even all week in the state tournament before Saturday.
Asked how the umpires explained the calls to him, Garcia hesitated initially to answer.
“There’s not a whole lot of things I can say positively about that, because the first thing the (umpire) from Las Cruces said is that they’re teaching the pitchers wrong here,” Garcia said. “But I’m not going to argue a judgment call. You can’t argue a judgment call.”
CLASS 6A CHAMPIONSHIP
UNM Softball Complex
No. 7 Las Cruces 8, No. 1 Volcano Vista 6
VV 010 104 0 — 6 7 0
LC 202 311 x — 8 12 0
Pitching: LC, Anisah Triste and Mariah Gallegos; VV, Brooke Leger, Alyssa Rosales (3rd) and Akia Marshall. Leading hitters: LC, Rylan Gonzales 1-4 HR 2 RBI; VV, Jaden Encinas 2-4, SB, Bela Mendoza 2-4, 3B.
No. 7 Las Cruces 12, No. 1 Volcano Vista 2
LC 013 014 3 — 12 10 0
VV 000 020 0 — 2 7 1
Pitching: LC, Anisah Triste and Mariah Galegos; VV, Alyssa Rosales, Emily Dix (3rd), Rosales (returned in 3rd), Brook Leger (6th), Audrey Jim (6th) and Akia Marshall. Leading hitters: LC, Heaven Pioquinto 2-4, HR. VV, Bella Mendoza 3-3, 2B; Jacklyn Gallegos 1-3, HR. Records: LC, 21-11; VV, 21-7.
It’s been 17 years since a blue state softball championship trophy has made its way back to Artesia.
On Saturday, the top-seeded Bulldogs looked like they were trying to make up for lost time, smacking 28 hits and scoring 26 runs in a pair of dominating run-rule wins over No. 5 Farmington, 13-2 in six innings and 13-0 in a five-inning championship series clincher, at UNM’s Softball Complex.
“It was good to see the fight in these girls — the way they fought for each other,” said third year coach Sandra Pulido, who led the program to a runner up finish last season.
OK, but 26 runs in back-to-back elimination games? Did she really see that coming?
“I did,” Pulido said. “That’s how offense has been all season. We were just waiting for our bats to come alive again.”
Senior pitcher Kali Crandall struck out six and allowed just two hits in the clincher. She also homered in each game. Sophomore third baseman Gabby Gomez joined Crandall with homers in both games. Her no-doubt, 3-run shot to straightaway center field opened the scoring floodgates in Game Two.
The reason for the second game was because Farmington had shocked the Bulldogs in Friday’s second round of the double-elimination tournament, forcing Artesia to fight its way back to the championship series through the losers’ bracket.
Did they ever!
In the five wins since Friday morning’s loss — three in the losers’ bracket and two on Saturday — Artesia outscored opponents 67-15 and never scored fewer than 13 in a game.
“The players talked after that game and we knew we might have been a little big headed for that (loss),” sake Crandall, one of seven seniors on the roster. “We just refocused and believed in ourselves and put our trust in one another and in God like we’ve done all year. We knew we could come back and win, we just had a few more games we had to play to do it.”
For Farmington, the program has enjoyed a rapid return to prominence in the third year under head coach Tim Trotter. The team won five games in 2016, 13 games last season and advanced to the championship series this season with a 20-11-1 record.
“What can you say? You have to tip your cap to how Artesia played today,” said Trotter. “We felt good about how we were playing. We have a lot of young players and we’ll get back to work starting next week.”
In the first game Saturday morning, Artesia used a four-run third and added four more in the fourth to set the tone. Crandall struck out seven and she and Gomez each homered in the fourth.
CLASS 5A SOFTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
UNM Softball Complex
No. 1 Artesia 13, No. 5 Farmington 2 (6 innings)
A 004 405 — 13 15 1
F 000 002 — 2 3 3
Pitching: A, Kali Crandall, Rylee Crandall (6th), K. Crandall (returned in 6th) and Melody Payne; F, Makayla Donald, Nicole Brimhall (4th) and Abby Daniele. Leading hitters: A, K. Crandall 1-4 HR, BB; Gabby Gomez 2-4 HR, 2B; F, Amy Woodside 1-1 2B.
No. 1 Artesia 13, No. 5 Farmington 0 (5 innings)
A 070 24 — 13-13-0
F 000 00 — 0-2-2
Pitching: A, Kali Crandall and Melody Payne; F, Makayla Donald, Nicole Brimhall (2nd) and Abby Daniele. Leading hitters: A, Gabby Gomez 2-3 HR; Kali Crandall 2-4 HR, 2B, 2Rs; Chanler Groves 2-3 two 3Bs. F, Brianna Frias 1-2 . Records: A (29-4), F (20-11-1).