Published: 12:01 am, Sun. Mar. 27th, 2016Updated: 12:38 am
Following a bombshell of a start to the annual Sal Puentes Memorial Tournament in Rio Rancho Thursday, the Bulldog baseball team’s bats unfortunately cooled as the bracket went on.
After racking up 11 hits in a stunning 11th-hour comeback victory over Rio Rancho in Thursday’s opening round, the ‘Dogs went on to manage just four total against Clovis and Cleveland, and the result was a fourth-place finish.
But while the final bouts didn’t live up to the Bulldogs’ hopes after ousting their hosts on Day One, the team performed well overall in a tournament loaded with stiff competition. Not only did the ‘Dogs surprise the Class 6A second-ranked Rams, 6A No. 1 Carlsbad was rattled twice on the weekend, falling to La Cueva 4-1 on Thursday and Goddard 1-0 Friday.
“We played real well in our first two games,” Artesia head coach Lee Johnson said Saturday. “I was pleased with our defense, and against Rio Rancho, we hit the ball when we needed to.”
Senior center-fielder Grady Frost announced the ‘Dogs’ presence with authority in the top of the first in that outing with a solo home run over the right-field fence.
The Rams tied it up in the home half, however, and took a 4-1 lead out of the second on a wild pitch and a two-RBI single by pitcher Chris Carr, but Artesia inched back into the mix, tying the game with a two-run third that featured a Jharyss Granger RBI base hit and a Taylor Null squeeze bunt, and a Carlos Carrasco RBI single in the fifth.
Rio Rancho batted around in the bottom of six and appeared to put the game on ice with five runs on three hits and a trio of Bulldog errors.
The ‘Dogs, however, weren’t feeling the chill.
As the Rams’ second pitcher of the evening gave way to a third, then a fourth, Artesia kept their rally rolling. Granger walked to lead off the at-bat and reached third on a Null double to left-center, and the two would both cross the plate on a double to left by Carrasco.
A wild pitch sent Carrasco home, and the Bulldogs’ seven, eight and nine hitters – Dominic Madrid, Robert Fernandez and Miguel Martinez – would all single, Martinez with one RBI, to bring Artesia back within one, 9-8.
An error loaded the bases, and the tying run crossed on a RBI ground out by Frost. With two away, the ‘Dogs needed one more to give themselves a chance at a regulation win. Null delivered with interest, doubling to center to score Martinez and Cody Fuentes and give Artesia an 11-9 lead.
With Granger on the mound to close in the bottom of the seventh, a strikeout and popup to first were followed by a walk and a wild pitch that gave the Rams one in scoring position. But a clutch K by the junior hurler ended the threat and the game.
“That was a great comeback,” Johnson said. “To score seven in the seventh and beat a top 6A team was a good win for us.”
Granger logged the win on the hill, and the ‘Dogs were led at the plate on the game by Martinez (2-2 with one RBI), Fernandez (2-3), Null (2-4 with two doubles and three RBI), and Carrasco (2-5 with a double and three runs batted in).
Friday’s semifinal round found Artesia paired off with 6A Clovis, and the boys in orange wasted no time getting on the board, with Fuentes – aboard with a single – scoring in the top of the first on a fielder’s choice by Null.
The Wildcats would answer with three of their own in the home half, however, on a sac-fly and back-to-back doubles by pitcher Austin Adams and Jason Freeman.
As it turned out, Granger would go on to hold Clovis to just one more hit in the contest and no additional runs. But the Bulldogs could not get over the hump amidst a one-hit performance by Adams.
Artesia made it 3-2 in the top of the fifth when Clay Donaghe led off with a walk and scored on a Tristan Bowden sac-fly to left, but that was as close as they’d come.
Adams took the W with one hit and one earned run through seven complete, while Granger gave up four hits and three earned runs in the six-inning loss.
“We gave up three runs in the first and that was it, but it was still too much for us to overcome,” said Johnson. “We couldn’t get a hit with runners in scoring position, and their pitcher did a good job of keeping us off balance at the plate.”
The ‘Dogs’ offensive troubles would unfortunately be compounded by defensive miscues Saturday morning against Cleveland in the Sal Puentes third-place game.
The Storm took five runs out of their first two triple to the plate, all unearned, while Artesia could again get nothing going against senior pitcher Andrew Garcia.
Madrid doubled with two outs in the bottom of the third but was left standing, and with the bases loaded and one away in the fourth, a fly out to left by Donaghe became a double play when Granger was gunned down attempting to score. Fuentes was also stranded at third in the bottom of six.
Cleveland, meanwhile, would tack on a pair of insurance runs in the seventh – their only earned runs of the day – en route to the 7-0 shutout.
Garcia gave up three hits and struck out six through his seven innings on the mound, while Martinez – Artesia’s third pitcher of record in the contest – took the loss with four hits and two earned runs allowed.
“We made five errors and spotted them five runs in the first two innings, and when you spot a good 6A team five runs, it’s hard to come back,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t matter who you are.
“We were outhitting them two to one through four innings, but you have to be able to play a whole game, start to finish.”
Johnson was pleased overall with the Bulldog pitching staff’s performance on the tournament. They gave up just seven hits against Rio Rancho and held Clovis and Cleveland to four and seven respectively, with four of the Storm’s hits coming in the seventh.
With the 1-2 weekend, the ‘Dogs drop to 5-7 on the season and will now have a week off to prepare – unbelievable as it seems – for their regular-season finale April 5 against Hobbs. Artesia opened its 2016 campaign against the Eagles March 1 on the road, falling 6-2, before competing in tourneys in Carlsbad, Artesia and Rio Rancho, and a double header March 22 at Centennial.
The ‘Dogs will host current 6A No. 3 Hobbs at 6 p.m. next Tuesday at Brainard Park and will kick off District 4-AAAAA play the following week with home double headers against Lovington April 12 and Goddard April 15.
“We’re going to go back to work next week, work out hard, and fix some mistakes,” said Johnson. “That’s why we play all these tough teams is to get ready for district.
“Eight games in 10 days is a lot, and our strength of schedule is as high as anybody’s. We’ve played six 6A teams and gone about .500 against them, so we should be prepared for what’s coming up.”