Published: 2:25 pm, Sun. Mar. 4th, 2018Updated: 2:24 pm
A 2-1 weekend against some of the top teams in Class 6A would be more than most first-year head coaches could hope for. Particularly with a team still incomplete as winter sports transition into spring.
But JJ Ortiz got just that from his 2018 Bulldogs at the Hobbs Round Robin, as Artesia defeated Cleveland 9-8 in eight innings and Clovis 6-4, falling by a close margin to Carlsbad in between, 19-14.
“I was really happy with the weekend,” Ortiz said Saturday. “There were definitely a lot of things to be happy about.
“When you’re down 5-0 against Cleveland, one of the top five teams in the state, then down 8-3 against them and come back and tie it up 8-8, then beat them with a walk-off in the bottom of the eighth inning… that’s unreal.”
It looked as though the ‘Dogs were headed for a similar thrilling comeback Friday against the Cavemen, as well.
After tumbling into a 13-0 hole after two innings of play, Artesia got on the board in the third on an Aaron Natera RBI single, then made it a five-run game in the fourth on a double by Cooper Flores and base hits by Braxton McDonald, Robert Fernandez, AJ Estrada and Natera.
The Bulldogs got within three in the fifth on hits from Estrada and Flores, 14-11, but Carlsbad was able to pull back in front by five going into the sixth, 16-11. Still Artesia battled, however, making it a two-run game in the top of six, 16-14, before the boys in blue surged ahead for good, 19-14.
“To go down 13-0 against Carlsbad and fight back to within two runs, 16-14, with bases loaded and a chance to maybe take the lead was crazy, too,” said Ortiz. “For our kids to not give up like that was huge. It shows a lot of character.”
There was no time to recover from the marathon bout, as the ‘Dogs immediately took the field against Clovis, going up 5-0 in the second with help from a Fernandez two-RBI single, then holding onto the lead, 5-4, after a Wildcat rally in the fifth. Artesia then tacked on an insurance run in the sixth to secure the 6-4 victory.
Natera got the win on the hill in that game and Miguel Martinez the save with a scoreless top of seven.
“That Carlsbad game was four hours long, and we had to come right back and play another game against Clovis, who’s maybe in the top three in the state right now with 12 seniors, all of them with experience from last year,” Ortiz said. “Getting a lead and holding it against a team like that was impressive, and I was just really happy for the kids, because they deserve it. Their hard work is already showing.”
The opening weekend was also an illustration of the kind of steady progression Ortiz hopes to see from his squad over the course of the year.
“We told the kids, ‘Let’s build off of each game, let’s build off of each inning, learn from our mistakes and not repeat them, and we’ll be fine,’” said the coach. “We started off kind of slow in the first couple of games, but we learned from our mistakes, and in the third game, we played really solid against Clovis.”
With 29 total runs tallied on the round robin, Ortiz was also pleased with his team’s offense, often a sticking point for baseball clubs early in the year.
“We’ve been really working on our swings, and you could tell,” he said. “All the kids are hitting the ball, we’re being real aggressive on the bases and taking advantage of mistakes – I couldn’t be happier with the start.”
The Bulldogs (2-1) will now prepare for another early-season challenge Thursday through Saturday as they head to Carlsbad for South Eddy County’s invitational.
“We open up with Midland Lee, and I think they’re top six in Texas,” said Ortiz. “They have a good team, but like we told our players, it’s just another test. We’ll work on us, keep getting better, and take one inning at a time – that’s going to be our approach.”