Yodice: Amazing, and apt, close to spring - Albuquerque Journal

Yodice: Amazing, and apt, close to spring

Time to exhale.

While my annual overall high school sports year-ender column arrives next weekend, with much to unpack, let’s narrow the focus today on the five spring sports that were just completed.

No athletes were more anxiety-ridden, I would imagine, than the kids in the spring sports, whose 2020 seasons fell victim to the pandemic and for the longest time were in limbo about the status of their 2021 season.

But here we are, a weight lifted off everyone’s shoulders now that it’s finished and in our rear-view mirror. We’ve gotten through all of them. Tennis, then golf, then track and field, then softball and finally baseball.

And there was much to celebrate.

Albuquerque Academy and St. Pius on Saturday night provided an enthralling finish to this unusual calendar, combining to score nine runs in the final inning. The Chargers scored four in the bottom of the seventh to walk it off, 8-7, in the Class 4A state baseball final.

Athletes dream of moments like the one Devan Johnson of Academy enjoyed, with a three-run double to win the game. He’ll relive that moment internally, and regale people with that story, for many years. What an electrifying exit scene.

And were it not for the Volcano Vista-Hobbs overtime thriller in the girls state basketball tournament in early May — and that game’s rather spectacular finish — this would have gotten my vote for the best postseason game in any sport this year.

Cleveland enjoyed a rather large Saturday, with championships in boys track (132 points is eye-popping) and softball. By the way, it’s time to recognize Storm track coach Kenny Henry, who ranks as one of the most underappreciated great coaches in this state. Kenny is an extremely modest guy, and he won’t particularly like reading that, but it’s accurate.

Was there any individual athlete, in any sport — and I mean not just the spring, but the fall and winter sports, too — who had more of a direct impact on a championship season than Cleveland’s UTEP-bound pitcher Aalijah Alarcon? Alarcon was brilliant throughout the year, capping it with three playoff shutouts, including a perfect game, in the state tournament. The Storm won its first blue trophy in softball, 3-0 on Saturday over Carlsbad.

Somewhere, our own Geoff Grammer is singing his Alamogordo High fight song after the Tigers won the Class 5A girls track crown on Saturday. Sandia Prep won 3A baseball with new head coach Scott Brandt. Tularosa softball (1A/2A) is a first-time state champ.

I wrote the other day about Los Alamos girls track and field, scoring 183½ points in a single state meet. That’s just stupid good. The Los Alamos boys track program hadn’t won state since 2008 until last Friday. The Hilltoppers distance specialist, Rafael Sanchez, likley put his team over the top with three stellar victories in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200, all head-to-head against runner-up Academy’s best. Cloudcroft’s Ajia Hughes scored a perfect 35 points with five victories in the Class 2A state track and field meet.

I met an athlete from St. Pius who moved to Castle Rock, Colorado, just south of Denver, a few weeks ago after graduation. He competed at district, and then state, after driving down to Albuquerque. Joseph Godshall became a state champion in the high jump, and unequivocally is the greatest commuter state champion prep athlete in the history of New Mexico.

Some schools continued their dominance. Like Cleveland boys track, which has been the big-school champion every year since 2016, not including last year, of course. Texico won its fifth straight baseball title. Artesia its third in a row in softball. Academy boys tennis has won every blue trophy since Harry Truman was president. (Actually, it’s 18 in a row. And counting. With no end in sight.)

La Cueva boys and girls tennis swept 5A team titles, just as Academy swept in 4A boys/girls golf. Eldorado’s Georgio Samaha won his third tennis singles crown. Hobbs and Piedra Vista won big-school golf championships.

Possibly the most paradoxical state champion this spring was, oddly enough, the La Cueva baseball team, which has symbolized greatness in New Mexico for two decades.

This was a young Bears group, with only four seniors and a starting lineup comprised mostly of underclassmen. A handful of players who figured to be important to this team transferred out of state before the season ever began.

The winning pitcher for La Cueva on Saturday, Max McGaha, had something in common with Cleveland’s javelin state champion, Tyler Jenson. These two met as cancer patients several years ago at UNM Hospital. Now here these friends were on Saturday, both state champs. Awesome.

It was also a fitting season finale for La Cueva’s classy and insightful coach, Gerard Pineda, who’s endured much personal hardship this spring. Saturday, the day the Bears beat Hobbs in the Class 5A state final, was Gerard’s 23rd wedding anniversary.

On Sunday, he went back to Phoenix to be with his wife, Bridget, who is recovering from a major surgery. They had much to celebrate.

As do so many.

A hearty congrats to one and all.

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