RIO RANCHO – It’s been four years since the Capitan baseball team has been to the State championship game.
It’s been five since they won it.
At least one streak was broken, May 11, when this year’s Capitan nine defeated Estancia, 3-0, in the Class 3A semifinals at Cleveland High School.
For Tiger coach James Weems, this game was a vindication of his program.
“It’s just total elation,” Weems said of his feeling after the win. “This group, last year we won six games, the year before we won two. The growth we’ve seen, the maturity, everything. They’re playing baseball, and that’s all we preach. ‘Let’s just play baseball.’”
Capitan (13-9) earned its trip to the title game with some solid pitching from senior Brontson Leach, who got the complete game victory shutout.
I was honestly just trying to stay as calm as I could,” Leach said of his performance. “In the second inning I got a little nervous, but coach came to talk to me and told me to trust the defenders.”
While the Tigers got the shutout, that blanking of Estancia (21-5) was threatened almost as soon as Leach took the mound in the bottom of the first inning.
Drayton Oberg walked on five pitches to lead things off, while Devin Cantu Singled to put two men on.
After that, Leach struck out Reyes Herrera on three pitches, and Cruz Moreno hit into a double play to end the inning.
After a second inning that saw Capitan wriggle out of a bases-loaded jam, Leach had probably the best inning of his life in the bottom of the third, when he retired the side on just four pitches.
“They were swinging, and I was just putting them right in place,” Leach said of his pitching. “The ball was going right to my defenders. They were making the plays and that was all I could ask for as a pitcher.”
“Brontson was allowed 93 pitches today, he threw 92,” Weems said. “If he had thrown one more, we’d have had to brought in a different pitcher, but, as things worked out, we’re in good shape there.”
Then came the fourth, when it seemed Capitan’s achilles heel – errors – would undo the Tigers.
It started with a walk to Joseph Newsom, followed by a fly ball to center by Anaya.
Capitan fielder Jacob Smith dropped the ball for an error, but Newsom was late breaking from first and Smith gunned him down at second for the first out.
After a double and walk loaded the bases with Bears with one out, Josh Thomas hit a grounder to short, but Anaya – now standing at third – didn’t head for home as Abieta was running to third.
Capitan shortstop John Rogers – now faced with two Estancia runners on the same base – chased down Anaya for the second out.
A routine grounder ended the inning to continue Capitan’s good fortunes.
The Tigers were also able to take advantage of Estancia’s miscues in the field, seeing at-bats extended and men getting on base when the Bears couldn’t handle seemingly routine fly balls or pop-ups on the infield due to a swirling wind overhead.
Capitan got the only run it would need in the top of the third when Leach – on base with a leadoff single and taking second on an error, was brought home by Caleb Hightower’s base hit to center.
“The tables were turned tonight. They (Estancia) started making those little mistakes and we capitalized on it,” Weems said. “Kudos to this (Capitan) team, they’re growing up before our eyes.”
Two insurance runs came in the fifth on a triple by Price Bowen, sacrifice fly from Hightower and a wild pitch.
“One or 20 runs, it doesn’t matter, I knew we could win,” Leach said. “We held them pretty good and we just came together when we needed to.”
Things get much tougher today at noon, when the Tigers take on top-seeded Texico. The Wolverines slayed Raton in the other Class 3A semifinal, 20-2, and own a 7-3 victory over Capitan in the NMMI Sertoma Classic earlier in the season.
Of course, Santa Rosa also beat Capitan in that tournament, and the Tigers were able to slay the Lions in the State quarterfinals on Wednesday night.
“I think it will be a really close game, It’s going to be a struggle for both teams,” Leach said. “But I feel like we have the edge and can pull it off.”
“Play like we did tonight, that’s all we can do,” Weems said.