RIO RANCHO – Winning eight consecutive softball state titles is a monumental achievement, but it didn’t buy the Silver Colts any breaks in 2019.
Silver already faced a tough task keeping its championship streak alive this season after getting bumped up a classification from 3A to 4A. Then the Colts drew an unlucky No. 4 seed for the state tournament, one that ultimately pitted them against No. 1 seed and defending Class 4A champ Artesia in Thursday’s winners bracket semifinals at Cleveland High School.
The matchup had top-notch drama. Silver left the potential go-ahead run at third base in the top of the seventh inning, then Artesia’s Presley Skinner lined a two-out hit to the warning track in left field, scoring teammate Nikki Reyes and giving the Bulldogs a 1-0 victory.
The battle of defending state champions was well-pitched, well-played and took barely an hour to complete. Bulldogs pitcher Rylee Campbell did not allow a base runner until the sixth and finished with a two-hit, seven-strikeout shutout. Campbell outdueled Colts lefty Kamryan Trujillo, who allowed six hits and struck out four.
Neither coach was surprised by the level of play.
“We thought this would be a championship-caliber game and it was,” Artesia coach Sandra Pulido said. “One big hit at a perfect time, that was the difference.”
Silver coach Duane Trewern offered similar sentiments.
“We were one play away from taking the lead and I thought we played well,” he said. “Artesia just played outstanding. I think a lot of people feel like the championship game just got played.”
No trophy was awarded, however. Nor was anyone eliminated. New Mexico’s state tournament is a double-elimination affair beginning with the quarterfinals, which means the Bulldogs (24-4) and Colts (23-4) could still meet again Saturday with a title on the line.
Artesia has a simpler path. The Bulldogs take on No. 3 Aztec in today’s winners bracket final. (The Tigers rallied for a 10-7 win over No. 2 Los Lunas in Thursday’s other winners bracket semifinal.) The Artesia-Aztec winner advances to Saturday’s final round needing just one more win to grab the blue championship trophy.
Silver, if it hopes to extend its remarkable streak, will have to do it the hard way. The Colts must win three straight elimination games today, beginning with an 8:30 a.m. matchup against Bernalillo, just to reach Saturday’s final round. If they pull it off, the Colts must then beat the Artesia-Aztec survivor twice to win a championship.
Beating Artesia once has been a daunting enough task for Silver this season. Three of the Colts’ four losses have come against the Bulldogs – two one-run defeats and the other in extra innings.
Understandably, Trewern was not especially pleased to see his team seeded on Artesia’s side of the Class 4A bracket.
“It seems like it’s the same thing every year,” he said. “They seed the tournament so you’ll get a south team playing a north team in the championship. We only lost three games all season and were seeded fourth. You can look at the records and numbers and say the bracket makes sense, but I don’t think it does.”
Pulido smiled when asked about the possibility of playing Silver yet again in the championship round.
“We have another tough game (today) and that’s where all our focus has to be,” she said.
“Silver is very competitive,” Pulido added. “I definitely wouldn’t count them out.”