RIO RANCHO – For all intents and purposes, the Capitan Tigers were viewing their game against Texico, May 10, at Cleveland High School as the Class 3A State championship.
The Wolverines are two-time defending State champions, and are heavily favored to win their third straight this season, but Capitan stood in their way in Thursday’s State semifinal.
This was a rematch of last year’s title game, and the Tigers were hoping to at least make a game of it.
They did, but it was still an 11-1 victory for the Wolverines.
“We made a few mistakes against this team, and not making plays on fly balls is difficult on your pitchers,” said Capitan coach James Weems. “That snuck up on us a bit, but I don’t take anything away from Texico. They’re a good baseball team and a great program going.”
It was a much windier day in Rio Rancho than it had been the day before, and Texico (26-2) was able to take advantage with several soaring fly balls and pop flies that created havoc with Tiger fielders.
There were five doubles off Wolverine bats, two of them pop-ups.
There was also a cannon shot by Texico first baseman that hit off the enormous center field fence at Cleveland’s field.
But that hitting didn’t start to really hurt until the third inning. That’s when the Wolverines were able to bat around and push across seven runs on six hits.
“Just a couple of things could have turned it a little bit. They had two big innings,” Weems said. “Other than that, who knows? We just have to hit the ball better than we did today.”
Until the third, Texico only led 3-0. That was a lead the Tigers (14-8) had already proven they could overcome, having defeated Eunice the day before down 3-1 for much of the game.
But while the Wolverines were skying pitches off Capitan pitchers Brenden Usrey and John Rogers, the Tigers could only get grounders off of Texico’s Ben Crist, who got the complete-game victory in five innings.
The one exception was a powerful shot by Price Bowen in the fourth inning which sailed over the left-center fence, just to the left of the 391-foot marker for Capitan’s only run on the day.
“It’s still that hitting thing. We’ve got kids that can hit pitchers like this (Crist) and to be honest, those that throw harder in velocity, we like that,” Weems said. “For some reason today, we just didn’t connect.”
The loss brought an end not just to the season, but also to the high school careers of seniors Bowen, Caleb Hightower, Clay Bob Stearns and Jacob Smith.
That’s a solid corps of dependable starters, but Weems will have a similarly solid group of players returning next year, as well as a lot of underclassmen that have proved their worth already.
“Hopefully next year with a great group of juniors that will be coming back, and that will be the core o our pitching,” Weems said. “We have to work now and get ready to play next year. We’ll be dropping down a class, but we’ll still be playing teams like Eunice and Estancia, and they’ll be in our district next year.”