We started this journey nine months ago.
Monday, we begin the final six days.
This is the 40th and final week of competition on the 2021-22 high school sports calendar – and it is, as always, also the busiest, as state champions will be crowned in golf, baseball, softball and large school track and field.
A frantic stretch begins Monday morning as the state golf tournaments begin at three courses, and it will end on Saturday night, either at Santa Ana Star Field or the adjacent UNM softball stadium.
Let’s set the table.
Monday and Tuesday will mark the last chance – at the high school level, anyway – to watch the state’s two best prep golfers, Aiden Krafft of Cibola and Quinn Yost of Piedra Vista, as New Mexico stages its first 36-hole state tournament since 2019.
These are the two most recent state champions: Krafft as a freshman three years ago, Yost in a condensed 18-hole event last year. Krafft is going to play in college at Oregon, Yost at Nebraska. Certainly it’s not a two-man race this week, but these two are the prohibitive favorites.
They’re not paired together on Monday, but let’s hope they are Tuesday and dueling on the back nine at Twin Warriors Golf Club.
Softball and baseball start up en masse on Thursday.
The southern schools have largely dictated the narrative in Class 5A softball this spring, and five of the final eight are from that region of the state. Leading that group is Carlsbad, the team most everyone pegged as the state’s best before the season’s first pitch was even thrown.
La Cueva and defending state champion Cleveland are all that remain in 5A from the metro area, and they’ll be challenged to make a deep run in this tournament against this field.
Artesia is chasing a third straight 4A title, and the Bulldogs, with Baylor-bound RyLee Crandall, are the top seed, with Gallup, Silver and Lovington hoping to break through. Bernalillo and St. Pius, much like Cleveland and La Cueva in 5A, will need a magical week.
The 5A baseball bracket, which has reached the quarterfinal stage, has been neatly – and somewhat unusually – separated, with Carlsbad, Organ Mountain, Hobbs and Farmington in one half, and Sandia, La Cueva, Cleveland and Rio Rancho in the other.
Starting pitching is the one constant that, from my chair, distinguishes the eventual state champ from the pack. And there is ample outstanding pitching remaining in this tournament.
Consider Thursday’s Farmington-Carlsbad game – this matchup was once New Mexico’s premier baseball pairing – with Zach Raichel of the Scorpions, an under-appreciated ace who silenced teams like Sandia, La Cueva and Rio Grande, possibly facing the Cavemen’s Nolan Perry, who figures to follow former Carlsbad star Trevor Rogers as a Major League Baseball draftee after this his senior season.
Sandia, the 2 seed behind Carlsbad, hasn’t been in the finals in nine years and hasn’t won state in 42 years. The Matadors are the sentimental choice this week, and it is a formidable group that includes a couple of UNM signees in Jordan Martinez and Adrien Martin. That 7 p.m. quarterfinal Thursday at Santa Ana Star Field is the one that has the highest curiosity factor, insomuch as the Matadors face the team ranked No. 1 in 5A (but seeded No. 7) in Rio Rancho.
By seed, we are on track for an Albuquerque Academy-St. Pius repeat final in 4A. However, the Chargers face a daunting quarterfinal in Valley, whose junior lefty and UNM commit Alex Gilliam might be on the bump Thursday night at Rio Rancho High. These two teams played a 1-0 game won by the Chargers on April 29, the penultimate day of the regular season.
Sandia Prep is after a second straight blue trophy in 3A baseball.
The 4A/5A state track and field meet is Friday and Saturday at UNM, with an abundance of star power – dozens of sprinters, hurdlers, distance runners, throwers and jumpers – on display in a postseason event that features more great New Mexico athletes (by far) than any other. The boys 100 in 5A, with Christian Buzzard of La Cueva back in the fold, squaring off with Cleveland’s Evan Wysong, could prove to be a special showdown.
State track is the most exciting two days of the prep calendar; I’ll die on that hill.
We’ll have time to catch our breath starting next Sunday. From now until then, foots on the gas pedal, if you please.