My overall year-end column for the 2022-23 school year is on the menu next weekend. First, we look back on 11 days and five spring state championships:
CHANGE IN SCENERY: The move to the Jennifer Riordan Spark Kindness Sports Complex for the second week of state baseball (29 of the 31 games last week were played there) seemed to go over pretty well.
The ability to watch multiple games at once was certainly the greatest plus in this equation. That was a tremendous and positive addition to the playoffs, which are usually scattered around the metro area at a few different sites. Yes, seating and parking were a bit limited, but that wasn’t a surprise. On the whole, my thought was, it served as a terrific central venue.
There was one major glitch, however. Three of the four fields on Friday — the only three being used — had major issues with the pitching mounds, which are turf. Significant repair jobs had to be done on all three, in particular Field 1, the championship stadium.
The issue, one pitcher said to me, was a portion of the turf slipping underneath his plant foot. Related to players wearing metal spikes? I don’t know. Possibly. The city did give special permission for players to wear metal spikes last week.
The mound issues were a slight blemish on an otherwise fun week, and if this tournament returns to the Riordan Complex in 2024, it’ll be interesting to see how that is addressed.
SENDOFFS: Two future UNM Lobos, Gene Trujillo and Vascon Smith, ended their prep careers with championships.
It was Trujillo’s first with St. Pius (the Sartans’ third title since 2019) and Smith’s first with Rio Rancho (the Rams’ first title since 2013).
“I’m super excited (to start my college career),” said Trujillo, who was magnificent in the playoffs with six home runs. “I don’t have enough words to say how excited I am.”
Said Smith: “I thought (St. Pius winning state) was really cool. I was just thinking, ‘Man, Gene just won, I gotta win, too.’ I love Gene. I’m looking forwad to playing with him.”
Centennial’s Steven Milam also went out in style, even if the Hawks, as a team, fell just short. He had three extra-base hits in the final as he prepares to become an LSU Tiger. (If he doesn’t turn pro first.)
HILLTOPPERS INDEED: Few girls track and field programs in my career have been as dominant as Los Alamos High has been the last two years.
Last weekend, the Hilltoppers went out and scored 176½ points in the two-day Class 4A state meet. This, after scoring 165 a year ago. Imagine a high school basketball team scoring 125 points in a state championship game. That’s pretty much this.
The two most dominant teams in relation to their competition this spring were the Los Alamos girls and the Albuquerque Academy boys tennis program, which earlier this month won a 20th consecutive state championship. (The Chargers are nearing national record territory if this keeps up for several more years.)
Cleveland’s boys track and field team has now won seven team titles in a row. Carlsbad softball went back-to-back, as softball — for the second straight school year — was the only major team sport with playoff brackets in which not a single team from the metro area played for a title. Robertson (3A) and Loving (1A-2A) also successfully repeated in softball.
MULTI TASKING: There is something to be said for the art of juggling — any number of multi-sport athletes do this — and Cohen Mulville, Jax Mulville and Stephanie Romero could all speak to the difficulties of time management.
The Mulville boys both were in the starting lineup for St. Pius in its state championship baseball season, and Cohen, a senior, had a crucial hit in the title game Saturday against Albuquerque Academy.
But, sandwiched inbetween the two weekends of state baseball, the brothers last Monday and Tuesday helped the Sartans to a second-place finish at the Class 4A state golf tournament at Santa Ana Golf Club. Cohen tied for ninth, Jax tied for 18th.
La Cueva’s Romero was remarkable. She paired with Cameron King to win the Class 5A state doubles title on a Thursday. Then the Bears won the team tennis championship on Saturday.
On Tuesday at Twin Warriors Golf Club, she was All-State individually (finishing sixth), and La Cueva won the 5A state tournament. As a P.S., La Cueva had a tremendous spring, winning five state team championships — two in tennis, two in golf, plus girls track on Saturday.
IT’S ALWAYS CHRISTMAS, APPARENTLY: You had to be near the Rio Rancho dugout on Saturday afternoon to hear them, but indeed, some of the Rams were singing Christmas tunes after they won the Class 5A state title.
They were singing before the game, too, which I was told is par for the course.
“We were getting on the bus today, and it’s a nervous day,” Rio Rancho coach Ron Murphy said. “They’re singing Christmas songs when we got on the bus. … That is what makes them so different. They love each other off the field, which makes them able to compete (so well) on the field. We always way, we are family. We were a true family team this year.”
TIES THAT BIND: Saving the best for last, we come to a freshman from Sandia Prep named Josh Riordan.
You’d be hard pressed to imagine any athlete in any sport — including the fall and winter sports — who could have authored for themselves a more fitting or emotional conclusion to their season than young Josh.
His mother is Jennifer Riordan. She died five years ago, the result of an in-flight incident on a Southwest Airlines flight leaving New York as she was making her way back to Albuquerque.
Her name is on the complex where most of state baseball was contested last week.
Josh had a crucial hand in the Sundevils’ march to the Class 3A title. He threw over 100 pitches in relief on Friday night against Cobre. It was 6⅓ shutout innings, to be precise. Remarkable stuff on a big stage from a ninth-grader.
And then, of course, on Saturday, he celebrated a state championship at the Riordan Complex as Sandia Prep beat Ruidoso in extra innings.
On Mother’s Day weekend, no less.
Way to go, young man.