FARMINGTON — Aztec is on a mission to win every tournament it enters this year, and the Lady Tigers earned a big one on Saturday.
The Lady Tigers defeated Farmington High 5-4 in the championship game of the Scorpion Softball Invitational at the Ricketts Park softball fields.
It was a back-and-forth game that went into the seventh inning tied at three before Aztec's Angela Minjarez delivered a single that scored Alix Johnson and Jerrie Knight.
Minjarez went back out to the circle in the bottom of the seventh looking to finish a complete game, but she ran into trouble early by walking Farmington's Cheyenne Cochran, who eventually came around to score when a hit by Erika Bradley got past Aztec's left fielder.
In a 5-4 game with runners on first and third, Minjarez was able to strike out Sicily Villano for her first strikeout since the second inning.
In the next at-bat, Paige Miley ripped a line drive down the right field line, but the ball sliced foul by about a foot. If fair, the game would have at least been tied.
"It scared me a little bit. I hit my spot but not good enough," Minjarez said of the foul ball. "I was so glad it went foul. It saved me."
Minjarez was able to finish the game by striking out Miley for her fifth strikeout of the game.
Minjarez credited her strong finish in the circle and at the plate to being motivated by Aztec head coach Jose Santistevan.
"It motivates me when he gets mad at me. We both get mad at each other and it makes me do better," she said.
Santistevan said he and his ace pitcher have a unique relationship.
"We have this ‘she hates me and I yell at her' relationship. I told her if it takes me to make her mad to make her better, I will do it," Santistevan said. "I will take 35 minutes of her being ticked off with me if it makes her better. That is what happened in the seventh inning. I told her I didn't think she was going as hard as she could and she buckled down and got it done.”
"Same thing with her offensively. I tried to take her out in the sixth inning, but I wrote a substitutes number down wrong and couldn't replace her in the lineup. That was part of her being mad at me. She had been struggling the whole tournament at the plate, but I told her go out and prove me wrong and make it so I made a mistake. Told her I will eat crow all day if she proves me wrong. She ended up getting a good hit in the seventh and it helped us and herself. I am glad she got that hit. She needed it. It had been two or three games since she hit the ball hard."
Villano pitched a solid game for Farmington High, but errors cost the Lady Scorpions as much as they cost the Lady Tigers in the game.
"It was a heartbreaker for us. Both teams fought really hard," said FHS head coach Johnny Curry. "It was a game of errors, really. We took advantage of theirs and they took advantage of ours. It went back and forth. It was no surprise that it came down to the wire like that."
Farmington (6-5) struck first in the game when Erika Bradley hit a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the second inning.
Miley later scored on an Aztec error after she originally reached base with a single.
But Aztec (9-2) answered in the top of the third with two runs on RBI singles off the bat of Taylor Santistevan and Alix Johnson, who was 2-for-4 in the game with a double and 2 RBIs.
"Alix did great offensively today. She had a rough defensive tournament, so it was nice to see her have an opportunity to come through offensively like she did," Santistevan said.
Aztec took a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning when Amber Linker scored on Johnson's double after doubling herself.
Santistevan was happy his team got an early look at Farmington and especially against Villano in the circle.
"It is kind of always that do you want to play them or not before district? But, I think with Farmington, it is going to be good we saw them early because they have a bunch of girls in different places and pitchers we haven't seen pitch before. It was nice to see Siciy pitch," he said.
Minjarez, Linker and Hailey Morris were all named to the all-tournament team for Aztec.
Curry said his team can learn from Saturday's game and he is excited about the direction the team has taken in recent games.
"The thing about this team is they are extremely humble. They want to learn and they have committed as a team to building on every situation and experience," Curry said. "Whether we win or lose, they are collecting experiences for the long haul. Nobody like to to lose, of course, and they fought so hard that it is tough to take a loss when you fight so hard. But our goal is to build on the previous day. Not to come out and do the same, but to get better, even by a little bit each day. We can use this as a building block."
Curry is happy to have two strong pitchers in Villano and JoJo Curry, who were both named to the all tournament team along with Cochran.
"It is like in basketball. You need a point guard and a big man to win it all. It is good to have a couple of pitchers. With good bats and a couple of pitchers, you set yourself up pretty good," he said. "We have built confidence in our bats the last three or four games.
"I have always wanted to be one of the teams that people say 'Watch out for them. They are scary.' I think we are going to be a little scary when it gets to the end. I really do."
Bloomfield took third place in the tournament after defeating Moriarty 17-5.
Rebecca Sappington pitched the Lady Bobcats to the win, and Chelsey Runyon hit her fourth home run of the year in the game.
"We came out and hit well. Sophia Cumpton also came alive and Sappington hit the ball hard," said BHS head coach Andi Clark. "All the other girls got their base hits that we needed and we did what we had to to get runners on base."
Bloomfield (8-3) dropped a semifinal game to Aztec 11-1 earlier in the day.
"The thing with Aztec is they are so stinking fast if you make an error they will capitalize," Clark said. "Little bobbles here and there and they capitalized on that. We have to work on that and we need to hit the ball as well. If we make errors, we have to come back with offense."
Thalia O'Neill and Cumpton were named to the all-tournament team for Bloomfield.
Aztec, Bloomfield and Farmington will all attend the Rio Rancho tournament next weekend.
John Livingston may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.