ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The damage was done early for St. Pius.
But not necessarily by St. Pius.
No. 5 seed Artesia had to endure an unhealthy measure of self-implosion in the early innings Thursday morning, the Bulldogs fell into a hole from which there was no return, and the top-seeded Sartans cruised past visiting Artesia 11-1 in six innings in the semifinals.
St. Pius (17-2) will face rival Albuquerque Academy (16-6), the No. 6 seed, at 5 p.m. Saturday in the 4A final at UNM’s Santa Ana Star Field. The Chargers upset No. 2 Miyamura 3-2 on Thursday afternoon in the other semi.
“We definitely deserve this,” St. Pius junior third baseman Nolan Esterly said. “The group of guys I’m with, I wouldn’t rather play with anybody else.”
St. Pius and Academy had an early doubleheader this season in late April. The Sartans swept, 6-2 and 7-3.
“They’re a tough team,” Academy coach Chris Alexander said following his team’s victory in Gallup. “(But) we’re a different team now than we were then.”
The Sartans could have been forgiven for thinking ahead to Saturday, even in the early going in Thursday’s semifinal matchup. This was about as easy as a state semifinal game gets.
St. Pius scratched out three runs in the bottom of the first inning, and had only one single among eight batters. In that disastrous first for the Bulldogs, Artesia starter Davian Molina walked four, there were three wild pitches, and also one crucial error.
In the second inning, Esterly’s first home run of the season — “I honestly don’t remember running the bases,” St. Pius’ 9-hole hitter said with a smile — made it 4-0, and consecutive doubles by Josh Salas and Jordan Rodriguez upped the lead to 5-0.
In the third, St. Pius tacked on four runs against Artesia (15-6), and again generated only one hit, an RBI double from sophomore outfielder Malachi Peña.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez, a junior right-hander, threw extremely well, giving up one run on three hits over five innings for St. Pius, the run coming on Molina’s solo home run to right in the fourth.
“That’s his best outing of the season,” St. Pius coach Matt McCoy said. “He’s absolutely just a beast up there. We knew he had this in him, we had seen glimpses of it all season long, and today he put it together.”
Rodriguez was also backed by some stellar defense, none more eye-popping than from senior shortstop Josh Salas, who authored two tremendous plays on ground balls — one moving to his left near second base, the other into the deep hole between short and third.
“We’ve worked toward this goal all season long and now we got there,” Salas said, looking ahead to Saturday. “This means a lot for us.”
St. Pius beat Academy in the semifinals two years ago en route to the Class 4A title.
NO. 1 ST. PIUS 11, NO. 5 ARTESIA 1
Artesia 000 100 — 1 3 2
St. Pius 324 002 — 11 8 0
Batteries: A, Davian Molina, Kody Watson (2), Caden Letcher (3) and Simon Jimenez. SP, Jordan Rodriguez, Christian Nelson (6) and Justin Romero. Win: Rodriguez (6-1). Loss: Molina. Leading hitters: A, Molina 1-3, HR. SP, Rodriguez 1-2, 2B, sac fly, 2RBIs; Josh Salas, 1-2, 2B, 2 R; Cohen Mulville 1-2, 2RBIs; Nolan Esterly 1-2, HR. Records: SP 17-2; A 15-6.
No. 6 ABQ ACADEMY 3, No. 2 MIYAMURA 2: In Gallup, junior Alex Gaeto pitched five solid innings for the Chargers, and reliever Henry Mitchell escaped two jams, one in each of the final two innings, as Academy never trailed in earning its spot in the final.
The Chargers, who have won 12 straight games, scored two runs in the top of the first inning. Ethan Krebs led off with a single and moved to third on Dominic Baca’s double. Both scored as Mitchell, a left-handed hitter, sliced a single over the third baseman’s head for two RBIs.
A safety squeeze in the sixth added an insurance run for Academy.
The Patriots (17-5) didn’t have much brewing until the sixth, when they scored both their runs. But they stranded the tying run at third.
Mitchell, after surrendering a single to start the seventh — the runner moved to second on an error — recorded two strikeouts and a ground ball to end the threat, and the game.
The Chargers last appeared in the state final in 2017, and last won a championship in 2015.
Classes 1A, 2A, 3A: No. 1 seed Logan won the Class 1A state title on Friday afternoon, beating No. 2 Gateway Christian 16-7 at Santa Ana Star Field.
- The 2A and 3A finals are Friday afternoon at UNM.
Sandia Prep, top-seeded in 3A, meets No. 6 Robertson at 12:30 p.m., with No. 1 Texico and No. 2 Eunice set to play at 5 p.m. in Class 2A.