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GHS’ championship heart snatches victory

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If you’re a Goddard baseball player, that’s why you come to Goddard, to play in games like the one they played in Friday afternoon. Goddard had their ace Drew Price on the bump and he wasn’t his usual sterling self. What was at stake for Goddard is their No. 2 ranking in the state, a district championship for the seventh season in a row, and a seventh consecutive 20-win season.

Champions aren’t made until they are pushed, and Goddard was pushed to the brink by Artesia. Artesia would not go away and had an answer for everything the Rockets did at the plate, in the field, and on the mound.

Artesia sent senior J.R. Bustamante to the hill to face Goddard. Bustamante was pumped up as he did damage on the mound and at the plate as he outpitched Price for three innings. Goddard showed why they have been to five straight state championship games, as they used a big fifth inning to score three runs to defeat Artesia, 4-3, Friday at Brainard Park.

“Exactly what we thought it would be,” Goddard coach Gilbert Alvarado said. “The intensity of both teams, a great job by both pitchers on the mound. Artesia has great team speed. They have a lot of guys that run well and they put pressure on us. The fact that we’re able to use small ball to push some runs across that was big time.”

The fact that Price was around to finish the game at all was a testament to his mental toughness. It was clear from the beginning that he didn’t have his best stuff, but what he had Friday was stuff that champions are made of. Price rolled all four years into one last effort to win a district championship.

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Price, at times, was his own worst enemy, allowing Artesia to score runs on wild pitches, and the Rockets’ defense committed errors to allow runs to score. Price, for the most part, pitched out of multiple jams to keep his team in the game.

“I got tired toward the end,” Price said. “Toward the end of the game, I started throwing well. I was trying my best to paint corners.”

Goddard never got rattled, they never finger-pointed or yelled at each other. They kept their composure and stayed in the game. Goddard catcher Noah Nunez crushed a fastball on a 2-2 count over the left center-field fence to tie the game, 1-1 in the top of the third inning.

What made the game so emotional was that Price was challenged by nemesis J.R. Bustamante — for three innings, he outpitched Price — except for the homer to Nunez, Bustamante shut the Rockets down. Bustamante made things personal by constantly talking junk to Price.

“It’s all love from him,” Price said, “that’s just how he plays. I’ve known him for five years and that’s how he competes. He’s a competitive guy and I’m going to let him know when he does something good and he’s going to let me know when I do something good. It’s just us. He can talk as much mess as he wants as long as we win.”

For the first time in his Goddard coaching career, Gilbert Alvarado lost his cool and had words with a base umpire who called a delay game on Price for taking too long between pitches. There’s a rule in the New Mexico Activities Association that says a pitcher must deliver a pitch within 20 seconds. Alvarado concurred after the game that the umpire was correct.

If Goddard goes on to win the district championship, the fifth inning of this game will be their calling card. It started with Eli Fairbanks getting a hit right back up the middle for a base hit with no outs. Colton Sans came up and laid a bunt down, the third baseman came charging in and threw it to first base but was called safe.

“I had two strikes on me,” Fairbanks said. “I shortened up my swing and tried to get us going. My season has been going good, I just have to stay out of my head. There’s nothing I can do about the past at-bats. I feel confident pitching tomorrow and the way we are swinging the bats.”

Fairbanks’ heads up play noticed that the Artesia third baseman did not go back to cover third base. He kept running and was safe at third when the first baseman threw the ball to the third baseman. Trotter Boston came up next and singled, scoring Fairbanks to tie the score at 2-2.

Sean Henry came up and laid down a bunt and Artesia’s infielder overthrew the first baseman allowing a run to score, to give the Rockets a 3-2 lead. Nunez was 3-for-3 on the day, came up and singled, knocking in the last run for the Rockets to give them a 4-2 lead.

It was that incident, and Bustamante talking to Price throughout the game, whether he’s pitching to Price or hitting off Price. Price would have the last word, as he struck out Bustamante in the bottom of the sixth inning with the tying run on third base. Price threw a fastball right by him and let out a yell and range of emotions as he looked at Bustamante, to end the inning and essentially the game.

“Artesia is a good team,” Alvarado said. “They are no joke. It’s not going to be easy. Drew (Price) showed you what he could do off of sheer will power. He’s a great athlete and great person and he’s the kind of kid that has no problem putting his teammates on his shoulders and carrying them across the finish line.”

Look for Ty Villareal for Goddard and Artesia’s Trent Taylor to take the ball for their teams in the first game today.

Goddard plays today at 11 a.m. at Brainard Park.