There is a lot of reasons a coach volunteers to coach at any level. For Kyle Stokes, it’s an opportunity to influence young lives and teach what sports and sportsmanship are all about. The only other feeling that compares is having the opportunity to coach his sons, Rhett and Ross Stokes.
Stokes has been coaching Lions Hondo for 11 seasons. He coached his eldest son Rhett in T-ball in 2008. He’s coaching Ross this season. In March 2018, Stokes was presented with the Little League Dedicated Volunteer Award by the Lions Hondo Board of Directors for his years of service as a coach and league official.
The Lions Hondo baseball team was chosen by their peers at the closing ceremonies on June 11. Stokes was appointed manager by Troy Oswald, president of Lions Hondo and approved by the Board of Directors. Stokes chose Sylvester Lomeli and Mel Licon to be his coaches, which the board approved.
“I knew that Sylvester (Lomeli) and Mel (Licon) were the right fit for this team,” Stokes said. “Sylvester has a ton of knowledge of the game and strategy and Mel is amazing at keeping the books and helping to make team decisions based on statistics.”
A recap of their tournament run started with district play on June 22, at Noon Optimist. The team went 4-0, beating Tularosa Valley and Artesia twice to win the district title.
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On July 13, the team began sectional play in Española. The team went 3-0, defeating Zia Little League out of Clovis, Los Alamos and Carlsbad Shorthorn. Sylvester “Cheeto” Lameli and Ross Stokes pitched in that game.
The state tournament was held at Cibola Little League in Rio Rancho, beginning on July 20. Lions Hondo opened up play by beating Silver City on Friday night. With the win, it put them in the winner’s bracket to face Carlsbad Shorthorn. The game was tight, but the Lions came up on the short end losing 6-4.
Now in the losers’ bracket, Lions Hondo had to play Paradise Hills Friday evening and defeated them 5-2.
Lions Hondo had to win out to win the championship and they would have to defeat Shorthorn, the team they had split with during the tournament. On the hill for Shorthorn was the dominating lefty Mack Mabrey, who was clocked at 72-73 mph on his fastball. Mabrey was able to keep Lions Hondo off the scoreboard until Shorthorn changed pitchers.
Loya was on the mound for Lions Hondo and the team gave up a couple of errors in the first inning, as they trailed 2-0. Loya didn’t have his best stuff but managed to battle for four innings. Hector Salivate pitched the last two innings.
Stokes and Lomeli drew walks in the sixth inning to start their comeback. Hector Salvarrey scored Stokes with a double to center field. Lomeli scored on a wild pitch as Loya drew a walk. Bryce Sanchez hit a double to score Salvarrey. Loya scored on a pass ball. That would end the scoring for Lions Hondo and end their All-Star season.
“I told our team there’s a winner and a loser,” Stokes said. “I told them to keep their heads up, second-place in the state is nothing to hang their heads about.”
For some of the players, their Little League careers will come to an end. The players that play for the Roswell Aces will take a couple of weeks off and then continue to play in August. Salvarrey and Lomeli, two of the players who are eighth-graders, will be able to compete for a spot with the varsity team at RHS.
The last time Lions Hondo made it this far was in 2015 when Joe Carpenter and his team made it to the state title game at Roadrunner Little League in Albuquerque when they were defeated by the eventual champion, Paradise Hills of Albuquerque.
Notes on each player from coach Stokes.
Savino Sanchez — Catcher, little fireball and passionate.
Bryce Sanchez — Quiet, and a power hitter.
Hector Salvarrey — Beast behind the plate and at the plate.
Isaac Loya — Cannon of an arm and a power hitter at the plate.
Ross Stokes — Dependable, gets the fire started and a playmaker.
Abraham Toscano — Southpaw, game changer on the mound.
Jacob Palomino — Vaccum of the infield, focused ball player.
Sylvester “Cheeto” Lomeli — Dominates as a hitter and pitcher.
Eli Lynn — Hard worker and excels in the field.
Noah Lynn — Had a hamstring injury all postseason, but he was dedicated to the team. He showed up for all the practices and games all postseason.
Xai Carrasco — Exhibits leadership skills, his first season playing in Lions Hondo. Pleasant surprise.
Richard Gonzales — Quiet, puts the bat on the ball, respectful to others and the game.
“My father-in-law, Ike Beeman, showed me how important basic fundamentals are to coaching baseball,” Stokes said. “Joe Carpenter impressed upon me how to motivate players and coach with class.”
This has been one of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences in Stokes’ coaching career.
Stokes is impressed by his team’s never-say-die attitude that they never gave up until the last out was made. He was also impressed by Lions Hondo fans, and that previous Lions Hondo fans showed up to games and Albuquerque even though they had no kids playing. Those parents and grandparents supported Lions Hondo all the way through.
“There are no words to grasp it,” Stokes said. “This group of kids and parents has been amazing.”
Even though losing hurts, it’s the memories and friendship built along the way that Stokes will cherish most.