CAPITAN – Errors almost sunk Capitan’s baseball dreams, May 3, in the first round of the Class 3A State playoffs.
Starting pitcher Price Bowen was rolling along with a perfect game through three innings against Tucumcari, but then errors in the fourth allowed the Rattlers to tie things up with six runs.
Capitan re-took the lead, though, and eventually won in six innings with a 17-7 mercy decision.
“We can’t play like that again. We can’t have an inning like that again,” said Capitan coach James Weems. “That’s what’s been happening. We haven’t had bad games, we’ve had bad moments. We survived it today, but the teams will get better. They’ll take better advantage of that, and we just can’t let that happen.”
Capitan (11-9) cruised through the first three innings, as Bowen racked up five strikeouts and the defense was solid behind him.
But then one miscue at second base to start the fourth allowed Josh Walker on base, and things went south from there.
Billy Sandoval followed up with a double to left field, and Ryan Birch drove in both with a single.
Two more errors and four more hits later, the Rattlers (8-13) had tied things up.
At one point in the inning, Weems called the infield for a conference – all but Bowen, who was still throwing strikes just fine.
“Sometimes that’s what it takes,” Weems said of the conference. “They’re out there and Price was throwing well. They weren’t used to balls coming out there. At first we were getting the outs, but then we found a way to boot it around a little bit.”
Capitan got things settled down and got out of the inning needing runs.
That’s just what they got when Brontson Leach led off the inning with the first of his three hits on the day, stole second and scored on a single by Bowen.
Christian Newell later hustled out an infield single to score Bowen, and the Tigers remained in front for good.
There was a minor bit of controversy in the fifth, in which Capitan scored five runs.
Tiger fans and coaches felt a run by Newell should have counted just before Clay Bob Stearns was thrown out at third following a Julian Buechter single, but it turned out not to matter.
There were four more runs in the sixth inning on five hits, culminating in a single by Caleb Hightower which served as the walkoff hit. It put the Tigers up by 10 runs to end the game on the mercy rule.
“I really wasn’t worried about anything, I knew we had it from the start and was confident in my team,” Hightower said. “I saw that runner on third and I figured I might as well hit him in.”
Three different Tigers – Leach, Bowen and Aaron Fish – had three hits on the day, and Capitan had 15 base knocks total.
Leach also came on in relief of Bowen in the final inning after playing first base.
Both of those facts about Leach are crucial, as Capitan’s regular first baseman Brendan Usery saw his season come to a premature end with a broken glove hand.
He can pitch too, making his loss doubly troubling.
“I was a little nervous at first, but Brendan coached me through it and taught me a lot,” said Leach of his time at first base. “It was a little much, but he helped me out.”
“He’s been on the mound for us all year and can throw really well,” Weems said of Usery. “It’s going to hurt us in the long run I think, but we’ve still got three that can come up and throw, so we’ll just go one game at a time.”
Capitan’s next opponent is No. 2 seeded Santa Rosa, a team the Tigers faced in the third place game of the NMMI Sertoma Classic near the beginning of the season.
Santa Rosa won that game 9-5, but Capitan’s players and coaches are confident they can hold their own and win next Wednesday at Rio Rancho’s Cleveland High School.
“We played them and were close with them all the way,” Hightower said. “One inning can mess things up for you, but I really think we can stick with them.”