Ric Flair, former wrestling champion, used to say, “To be the man, you have to beat the man.” Artesia tried and couldn’t do it — in a series showdown with the winner to take the District 4-4A title. Artesia has the want to, the desire, drive and determination; what the Bulldogs don’t have is experiences winning championships in baseball.
“We’re so familiar with each other,” Bulldogs’ coach JJ Ortiz said after the game Friday night. “We have seen each other grow up for the last four years. It reminds me of a slugfest, like a boxing match between two world champions. This is why we went to a three-game series. We want to see who the best team is, that’s the whole point of the three-game series.”
The difference between Goddard and other teams is they are skilled in the little things, the finite details of winning that have been handed down from past player to player; from class to class, and coach to coach. Goddard has history, pedigree and tradition of playing in and winning big games. For Goddard to be in the championship game, it’s just a part of being a Rocket — it’s expected.
On Friday night, it took Goddard until the fifth inning to exploit the Bulldogs’ weakness. On Saturday with the District 4-4A championship on the line, the Rockets needed to win one of their two games in the season finale. Goddard did themselves a favor and took the suspense from fans and wrapped up their eighth-consecutive 20-win season and eighth-straight district title with a 4-1 victory over Artesia at Brainard Park Saturday.
Goddard has a different team this year than in past years — this year they have to manufacture runs and play good fundamental defense. The Rockets have power pitching in Drew Price, who won on Friday night, but on Saturday — Ty Villareal took to the bump and after early struggles, started putting the Bulldogs down as he had command of his fastball. Villareal would give up one run on seven hits while striking out seven batters as he went the distance.
It looked like it was going to be the Rockets’ day when in the top of the second inning, Mason Sonive tried to call a timeout. The umpire never granted time. Artesia’s catcher J.R. Bustamante stood up as if time was granted and the pitcher threw the ball anyway.
Sonive hit the ball back to the pitcher, Artesia’s Trent Taylor, and he just overthrew the ball to first base. The ball went into right field and before anyone could get to the ball, Sonive was standing on third base. Eli Fairbanks hit a sacrifice fly to center field as Sonive tagged up and scored easily to give GHS a 1-0 lead.
The only run Villareal gave up was in the bottom of the third inning when an Artesia base runner reached first base on a fielding error. Goddard tried to pick off the runner, but the ball was over the first baseman’s head as the runner ended up on third base. On the next pitch, there was a pass ball allowing the runner to score from third base to tie the game at 1-1.
“I was getting frustrated,” Villareal said. “I lost control. I trusted my defense, cause those guys have my back.”
Both pitchers pitched flawless baseball until the sixth inning when the bottom of Goddard’s lineup seventh, eighth and ninth hitters did damage. The Rockets’ Fairbanks hit a two-out double. Coltin Sons came up next and singled into center field scoring Fairbanks. Trotter Boston hit a triple to right field and as Goddard would score three runs and break open the game putting a dagger into the Bulldogs to win their eighth district championship
“Eli (Fairbanks) is swinging it really well,” head coach Gilbert Alvarado said. “He’s a junior and he is pitching really well for us. It’s probably the reason why we have some of those guys down in the bottom of the order, we want some of those guys with power hitting at the bottom of the order. He’s been solid at first base for us.”
In this game, several Goddard players came up big. The Rockets have a keeper in third-baseman Owen Alsup. Alsup had a rough game Friday but he kept making play after play and played through his errors. Impressing with his timely hitting and key stops in the field is Trotter Boston. He didn’t start the year at shortstop, but did earn playing time through hard work in practice and is improving.
“He’s a hard-working kid,” Alvarado said.
On Saturday, Alsup made the play of the game when Artesia’s Collin Turner hit a streamer in the hole between shortstop and third base. Alsup took three steps to his right dove stretching out his glove and landed on his butt and threw a dart to his Fairbanks at first base to get the Rockets out of the inning as Artesia had runners on first and second base.
“I just try and play as hard as I can,” Alsup said. “Every pitch, I expect the ball. I didn’t know if I had a chance to get it, so I went full extension and I landed on my butt. ‘I was thinking no way.’ It happened and trusted the process.” Alsup said.
Alvarado feels like if you’re going to beat a team, everyone has to contribute. He has stressed that it is too hard for just the starters to be on their game every game. Today, the top of the order was good in getting on base, and the bottom of the order was big in getting hits.
“We don’t want our best baseball to be in March,” Alvarado said. “We want our best baseball to be in May.”
In the final game of the series with the championship wrapped up, Alvarado rested some of his starters. Artesia defeated Goddard, 6-0.
Tune in Sunday, 5 p.m. to the New Mexico Activities Association website and watch the brackets and seedings as they are announced. District playoffs begin this upcoming week.
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or firstname.lastname@example.org.