No. 1 Piedra Vista was upset by No. 7 St. Pius X in the 4A state championship game at Lobo Field in Albuquerque. Fueled by a five-run second inning, the Sartans spoiled the Panthers' hopes of winning a fourth consecutive title.
"I am really not disappointed with my guys. I am upset for them because there were things in their control they could have handled," said PV head coach Mike McGaha. "It was not something St. Pius did to us. I feel like we weren't exactly focused. I think we competed well, but we made some mistakes we haven't made all year long."
The run to a state title completed a wild week for the Sartans.
Losing the District 5-4A title to Albuquerque Academy on May 4 dropped the Sartans from a potential No. 3 seed in the tournament to No. 7.
In the 4A state quarterfinals, St. Pius X held off a comeback by No. 2 Goddard to defeat the Rockets 8-7 in eight innings. Against No. 6 Albuquerque Academy in the semifinals, the Sartan bats came alive in a 21-3 run-rule win.
That carried over into Saturday's title game in a big way.
"After we beat Goddard, we came out against Academy fired up," said designated hitter Kyle Piersol, who was 3-for-4 with two doubles, a run scored and three RBIs on Saturday. "After that win, we had all the momentum coming into this game."
Piedra Vista took an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first when Jacy Cave belted a home run over the left field fence off St. Pius X starting pitcher Ryan Hernandez.
The Sartans answered back with a run in the bottom of the first when Piersol drove in Cody Bower with a double after Bower had tripled with one out.
PV tacked on two more runs in the second inning when Ty Jaquez singled and scored on a St. Pius error on a ball hit by Tyler Archuleta.
Matt Martin later came up with a single that scored Tyler Archuleta.
The wheels fell off for the Panthers in the bottom of the second.
After recording a quick out, PV starting pitcher Nate Dominguez issued consecutive walks before Alec Cogburn came up with a single to load the bases.
Kent Keeling then came up with a single to score Adam Baros before Bower drove in a run and reached safely on a fielding error by PV shortstop Martin.
Piersol furthered the damage with another RBI-double.
Piersol's second double ended the game for Dominguez, who was pulled after one and two-third innings of work. He allowed five hits to the 12 batters he faced while walking three. Dominguez had no strikeouts and was charged with five of the six runs that came across on his watch.
"If we were playing again tomorrow, I would have started Nate again," said McGaha, who had loaded up his bullpen with all pitchers on hand. "He is a senior. He has been in those situations before. He has beaten very good teams teams better than that. Obviously, the difference is strike one. 2-0 counts won't get you anywhere, especially against a St. Pius club who found the hot bat the last couple of games."
Gunner Archuleta relieved Dominguez and pitched three-and-one-third innings of near flawless baseball, though he issued a walk and a two-run single to the first two batters he faced in the second inning.
When the second inning was finally in the books, PV trailed 6-4.
"All the games that good teams play that they end up coming up short in, they will find an inning where there were multiple walks, an error and a hit," McGaha said. "We walked two. We don't cover a bunt with our second baseman at first, and that is a mental error. We make an error at shortstop, and then we give up a hit and it ended up being a five-spot."
The game rolled along with three scoreless innings from the third to the fifth.
Neither team could find much of a rhythm with St. Pius X inserting multiple relief pitchers and one stretch that brought a five-minute delay to the game while the home plate umpire tried to verify a count on PV's Kody Russell in the top of the fifth.
A pitch after the umpires reset the count to 2-2, Russell flew out on a weak fly to first base.
PV also made critical base running mistakes at times in the game. Satchel Baker was thrown out trying to steal second base in the third inning as he courtesy ran for Zach Ahlgrim, who led off the inning with a walk.
In the fifth inning, Dillan Vigil was picked off trying to dive back into second base by St. Pius catcher Baros.
"The guy taking a down-angle read and trying to take second base set a school record for stolen bases, and he stumbles and trips halfway down the line or else he is safe," McGaha said of Baker's out. "The guy getting picked at second (Vigil), I think they set him up for it. A pitch earlier, I looked at him and told him not too much (of a secondary lead) but the catcher makes a snap throw. That was definitely a momentum killer."
PV made it a 6-5 game in the sixth when Cave poked a single out to centerfield that bounced in front of and then over the head of the Sartan centerfielder. It score Jeremy Johnson, who singled to start the inning.
But the Sartans tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth.
Gunner Archuleta was relieved by Cave on the mound after issuing a leadoff walk and then hitting the nine-hole hitter with a pitch to give St. Pius X runners on first and second with no outs.
Kent Keeling laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners, and Cave intentionally walked Bower to load the bases with one out for Piersol.
But Cave picked Andrew Muhlberger off third base for a crucial second out and prevented St. Pius X from scoring on a sacrifice fly.
But Piersol came through with a single to right field that scored Cogburn after PV right fielder Tyler Archuleta made a poor throw trying to fire it into home plate too hard.
"You have a sophomore in right field that is playing his holy heart out, and he makes a bad throw. He has the guy easy at the plate if he just makes the throw. He has a cannon from the outfield," McGaha said.
For Piersol, the insurance eventually proved to be the game-winner.
"I have never beaten PV in my life. To do it in a state championship game is the best feeling I have ever had in my life," he said.
PV threatened to at least tie the game in the top of the seventh.
Vigil hit a towering triple to left field with one out, and Russell drew a walk to give the Panthers the tying-run at first base.
Ty Jaquez battled to a 3-2 count but was eventually struck out on a called third strike that appeared both low and outside.
"Probably one of the worst calls I have ever seen in my life," Cave said. "You can never trust an umpire to be consistent. You have to take them out of the game. That was kind of a big part of the game, so we didn't do our job as good as we could have."
Tyler Archuleta made up for his throw in right field by driving in Vigil with a two-out single to keep the Panthers alive and make the game 7-6, and Johnson was hit by a pitch to once again load the bases for PV.
But Martin grounded out to second base to end the game a batter later.
The out sent the Sartans dog-piling to the turf at Lobo Field as the Panthers walked off the field with heads down.
"The loss was not expected, but never too high, never too low," said Cave, reciting the motto McGaha has imprinted on the minds of all of his players. "You have to live with it. That is a great life lesson. Coach McGaha is a great guy and taught us all a lot of good. We thought we could hang on and fight through it, but we just came up short."
For St. Pius X head coach Marc Hilton, the victory was as sweet as it possibly could have been.
"This is what a state championship game is all about. To play the best like the Piedra Vista Panthers, I tell ya, this is what it is about," Hilton said. "It comes down to a one-run game. Whatever teams wants it the most is the team that is going to win."
McGaha called it a well-deserved win for the Sartans.
"Class act. That coaching staff is a class act. That is why they had a chance to win it all," McGaha said.
PV will move on without 10 of this year's seniors, but McGaha already knows the future is promising.
"It is already planned. We have hand-picked our leaders. We have Matt Martin, Kody Russell, Tyler and Gunner Archuleta, and Zach Ahlgrim is going to be a pretty huge piece to the puzzle. I like our chances to be right back here on this Saturday next year," McGaha said.
For the guys who have played their last high school game, McGaha hopes the lessons on the field carry over the rest of their lives.
"You always want to win the state championship. That is why you are here," he said. "But for me, honestly, I have been at four different high schools, and there is a standard of excellence that I want to have the opportunity to share with the kids and show them that they can be more than what their small world thinks they can be. It is not about a baseball game. It is just about if they are going to be dependable and accountable human beings. I want them to be those kind of people, and I want them to go back and say this is where they learned it."
John Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.