RIO RANCHO – There’s just something about the Capitan Tiger baseball team and extra innings when it comes to the Class 3A State tournament.
Last season, Capitan was in a battle for their lives in the quarterfinals, needing eight innings to dispatch Santa Rosa and move on.
On May 9, it was almost the exact same story, again in the quarterfinals and again in eight innings.
Only this time it was against District 4-3A rival Eunice, and the Tigers came away with a 4-3 come-from-behind victory at Cleveland High School.
“The thing that hurt us early on was our lack of hitting,” said Capitan coach James Weems. “The kids got impatient, swinging at bad pitches and not making good contact. That was good coaching on Eunice’s part.”
Capitan (14-7) scored first in the bottom of the first, when Julian Garcia – on with a single – scored on a miscue by Cardinal second baseman Hayden Dean.
But Eunice (12-13) pushed across two runs in the top of the third, one driven in by Frankie Solis, and scored again in the fourth on a double by Cameron Santa Cruz and an RBI single by Jacob Mendoza to go up 3-1.
That’s how the score remained through the next two full innings, despite numerous chances by both teams.
Combined, the teams left 19 runners on base in the game. Five times, the teams got runners to third base without scoring in the inning.
“That’s baseball, and we’ve been playing that good baseball, making the outs when we had to,” Weems said. “The errors did show up, but they had more than they did, which is rare for them.”
All the goose eggs came to an end for the Tigers in the bottom of the seventh. Facing elimination, the Tigers came up with two runs thanks to a pair of walks to Brendan Usery and Julian Garcia and an RBI single by Price Bowen.
“I was just hoping I’d get a good hit,” said Bowen, who started the game on the mound and held Eunice to three hits and all three runs though 3 1/3 innings. “I was getting my timing down on deck and I kept thinking to myself, ‘just stroke the ball.’ I didn’t think I’d win the game by myself. It was a good feeling.”
That tied things up, but coach Weems rolled the dice after Bowen got to third base with the bases loaded and one out.
Bowen took off for home with Garrison Weems up to bat on a squeeze play to win the game, but Weems missed the pitch and Bowen was an easy out at the plate.
Garrison later struck out and we were into extra innings.
Eunice may have seemed to get a dose of adrenaline back after stopping the Tigers on the precipice of a victory, and that kept going when Santa Cruz reached second on a throwing error to lead off the eighth.
But two pop-ups to Bowen behind the plate and freshman Luciano Gutierrez at third base suddenly changed the flow of the inning.
“I misjudged the pop up, I thought it was going to be a lot closer,” Gutierrez said of his play. “The wind took it back.”
“It was hard to see the ball in the clouds, and it’s kind of hard to see where the ball’s going to land,” said Bowen, who had dropped a pop foul earlier in the game at catcher. “You keep backing up and backing up until it finally hits you.
“Those were major outs,” he added. “That inning is what won this game.”
Brendan Usery, in relief of John Rogers, then struck out Jacob Mendoza to strand Santa Cruz at second and give his team a chance to win it in the bottom of the inning.
Adam Dunn struck out to start things, but Gutierrez, in his third at bat, came through with a single to left field and got to second base on a wild pitch with Usery up.
Usery later struck out, but next batter Julian Garcia hit the second pitch he saw into center field, allowing Gutierrez to score the winning run.
“I just tried to run as fast as I could, and Price (who was the batter on deck) was telling me to get down at the plate,” Gutierrez said. “When I was up to bat, I was praying. I just knew I had to get this hit, because I hadn’t hit all game. I knew this was the time to do it.”
“It was just a matter of getting these kids’ heads straight. Some of them are 14 years old,” Weems said in reference to the youth on his squad. “Luciano got put into the fire and showed his mettle. I’m proud of all that.”
Capitan will face two-time defending champion Texico – 14-4 winners over Laguna Acoma – in the semifinals today at 4 p.m. It will be a rematch of last year’s State championship, which the Wolverines won handily.
But both teams are different from last season, as the Wolverines showed a crack in their armor with some errors against Laguna Acoma.
In other Class 3A State games, Dexter defeated Santa Rosa 10-4, while Estancia trounced Tucumcari 20-5. Dexter and Estancia face off at 7 p.m. following the Capitan-Texico game.