Robertson played like it had been there before.
That only made its 11-1, five-inning victory over rival West Las Vegas in the Class 3A championship game at Santa Ana Star Field on Saturday all the more impressive, because the Cardinals have not, in fact, been there before.
They captured the school’s first blue trophy in baseball, but reaching that goal had not exactly been a hot topic of conversation as the team approached the finals.
“Not really,” said Brandon Lucero, one of three Robertson seniors. “We knew we had the team to do it and get the job done. Here we are now.”
Perhaps that nonchalant attitude took some of the pressure off the top-seeded Cardinals. Coach Leroy Gonzalez was well aware of the history at stake, but he made a point to de-emphasize the magnitude of the moment in his pregame pep talk.
“I said, ‘You guys have been playing since you were 5 years old. It’s the same game. You catch it, you throw it, you field it, you hit it. There’s nothing different about this game,’ ” he recalled. “Just get out and play your best.”
The Cardinals made it look easy. After trailing the third-seeded Dons 1-0 through two innings, Robertson (23-7-1) sent 11 batters to the plate during a six-run third inning that chased West Las Vegas hurler Antonio Bustamante. Four Robertson players drove in runs during the rally.
Getting Bustamante off the mound was particularly significant because he was the starter in a pair of 2-1 West Las Vegas regular-season victories over the Cardinals.
“They’re pitching their best against our best,” said Gonzalez. “They scored one (first) and I said, ‘Here we go.’ And then we kind of put pressure, ran a little bit and just put the ball in play.”
Robertson starter Antonio Padilla, who was on the losing end of both one-run games against Bustamante, was in command on Saturday, allowing just four hits and the lone run over five innings.
“Our pitcher, he was lights out today,” Lucero said. “Shut them down. We put the bat on the ball and we scored a lot of runs.”
Robertson then capitalized on two West Las Vegas (21-7) errors in a five-run fifth. Padilla followed with a 1-2-3 bottom half of the inning to help put his team in the history books with a mercy-rule shortened victory.
“We’ve always had competitive teams, and we’ve always got bounced out in the first round. It’s great to finally get past the first round and make it deep in the playoffs,” Gonzalez said. “We wanted to make it count.”
NO. 1 ROBERTSON 11,
NO. 3 WEST LAS VEGAS 1, 5 INN.
Robertson 006 05—11 14 0
WLV 010 00—1 2 4
Batteries: R, Antonio Padilla and Antonio Cordova; WLV, Antonio Bustamante, Roy Pacheco Jr. (3) and Joaquin Perea. Leading Hitters: R, Padilla 2-3, 3B, R, RBI; Brandon Lucero 2-4, 2B, 2R; Austen King 2-3, R, 2RBI; Derrick Montano 3-4, 2B, R, 2RBI; Antonio Cordova 2-3, R, 2RBI; WLV, Marcos Solano 1-1, 3B; Josiah Baca 1-2. Rec.: R 23-7-1; WLV 21-7.
In other finals Saturday at Santa Ana Star Field:
CLASS 2A: The top-seeded Texico Wolverines captured their fourth consecutive blue trophy with a 13-3 triumph over No. 3 Estancia. Texico’s previous three titles — all under the guidance of head coach Ty Thatcher — came under the Class 3A umbrella.
“I think the key to the whole thing was filling those holes,” Thatcher said. “We had a good group of seniors last year. The sophomore class really stepped in and filled the void we had.
“It took us a while to kind of get rolling. … The senior leadership kind of groomed those sophomores to be able to play quality baseball down the stretch and put it together through four days in a row.”
Texico’s five-man senior class included two players, Dalton Thatcher, the coach’s son, and Cole Rohrbach, who were present for all four coronations.
“It’s a dream come true. You’ve got to give it up to the Lord to give me the opportunity to play with these guys,” said Dalton Thatcher, who finished 2-for-4 with three runs and two RBIs. “It’s been amazing. The fourth one is big. I wanted to end on a ‘W’ and go to college, and know that I ended with a win. It’s just amazing.”
Texico (20-5) kept the pressure on throughout, scoring two or more runs in four innings with a balanced offensive approach. All told, seven Wolverines drove in at least one run in beating the Bears (21-5).
Meanwhile, sophomore starter Seth Griego battled admirably, allowing six hits and three runs before being lifted in the sixth.
“When you’re starting a sophomore on the mound, it’s a little bit uneasy,” Ty Thatcher said. “He wasn’t quite as sharp as he generally is. He got it together. He pounds the zone. Doesn’t give a lot of free passes. Sticks within our philosophy, and it worked for us today.”
Estancia’s last gasp occurred shortly after Griego’s exit. Texico led 9-3 at the time, but the Bears had the bases loaded with nobody out. Reliever Luke Phipps took care of business for the Wolverines, ending the Bears threat with a strikeout, flyout and a groundout. Texico followed with four more runs in the top of the seventh.
NO. 1 TEXICO 13, NO. 3 ESTANCIA 3
Texico 204 021 4—13 9 1
Estancia 102 000 0—3 7 3
Batteries: T, Seth Griego, Luke Phipps (6) and David Davalos; E, Cruz Moreno, Jake Zamora (5) and Josh Thomas. Leading Hitters: T, Dalton Thatcher 2-4, 2B, 3R, 2RBI; Cole Rohrbach 1-3, R, 2RBI; Luke Phipps 2-4, 2B, 3B, R, 2RBI; Isaac Ortiz 2-4, R, RBI; E, Drayton Oberg 3-4, 2R; Cruz Moreno 1-4, 2B, R, RBI; Preston Cantu 1-3, RBI. Rec.: T 20-5; E 21-5.
CLASS 1A: Gateway Christian entered the Class 1A state championship game unbeaten in three previous meetings with opponent Dora by an aggregate score of 22-1.
If the Warriors needed to avoid feeling overconfident, however, they just had to reflect on a bitter memory of the fall sports season.
“Most of these kids played football,” said Gateway Christian coach Rick Rapp. “We had beat Tatum twice during the regular season in football and then lost (to them) in the state championship game. I really didn’t have to say anything. That was in the back of their mind. They knew they had to come out here and perform.”
Performance was no problem for Gateway Christian in a 12-0, five-inning victory over the Coyotes (15-5). From the outset, senior starting pitcher Jaydon Stephens made sure there would be no lapses for the top-seeded Warriors (20-0). After Dora leadoff hitter Austin Wall reached on an error, Stephens proceeded to strike out the next three Coyotes in short order.
Then, Stephens led off the bottom of the first with a drive that was overrun by Dora right fielder A.J. Garcia. Stephens turned on the jets and came all the way home to give his team a 1-0 lead. While the official scorebook said “E-9,” the momentum it provided was just as valuable as if it had been an inside-the-park home run.
“Gosh, he’s super,” Rapp said. “That’s what we wanted to do. Our motto has been win each inning. He shut them down the first inning and gets the inside-the-park home run first at-bat. We go from there.”
Dora didn’t do itself any favors in the field. The Coyotes committed eight errors, including four in a decisive six-run fourth inning for Gateway Christian.
Meanwhile, Stephens shut Dora down over five strong innings, allowing one hit, walking two and striking out 10. After allowing a single to Joseph Urioste in the fourth, Stephens immediately picked the base runner off first. It was just that kind of day.
“I felt really good,” Stephens said. “I got a lot of rest because I pitched last week, and I got a week’s rest. My coaches got me prepared. My teammates made plays, and it was awesome.”
NO. 1 GATEWAY CHRISTIAN 12,
NO. 2 DORA 0, 5 INN.
Dora 000 00—0 1 8
Gateway 132 6x—12 8 1
Batteries: D, Haiden Padgett, Bradley Ramirez (4) and Marcus Pallares; G, Jaydon Stephens and Jacob Ramos. Leading Hitters: D, Joseph Urioste 1-2; G, Jacob Ramos 2-3, 2B, 2R; Hurley Breedyk 2-3, R, RBI; Wyatt Arlett 1-3, 2B, 2RBI. Rec.: G 20-0; D 15-5.