No. 1 Piedra Vista defeated No. 4 Aztec 5-2 at the University of New Mexico softball field in Albuquerque on Saturday morning to win an eighth consecutive 4A softball state championship.
"This is what we work for," said PV shortstop Susie Chandler, who has been on varsity for the last five PV state titles. "The last five years have been an amazing run. This year has been the best ever. Taking the eighth title is very special to me."
Chandler was able to record the final three outs of the game in the top of the seventh as she fielded three ground balls and fired a perfect throw to first base each time.
"I wouldn't want it any other way. I am glad I was able to get those last three outs and make the most of it," Chandler said.
PV pitcher Krissy Fortner dominated the Aztec lineup for the fourth time this season and for the eighth time in her career after taking over the circle as a junior in place of two-time New Mexico Gatorade Player of the Year Karysta Donisthorpe.
"After the first year Karysta left, I knew things were going to be hard because it is hard to replace a pitcher like her," Fortner said. "She is more of a strikeout pitcher, and I see myself as more of a pitch to contact pitcher. This year was so much better. It was so much fun, and we worked so hard for this."
Saturday was Fortner's last competitive softball game. She will attend UNM in the fall for academics.
She went out with a bang. After issuing a leadoff single to Aztec centerfielder Hailey Morris, Fortner went on to retire 17 Lady Tigers in a row before Morris got another hit in the sixth inning.
Fortner finished the game with four strikeouts and one walk. She allowed four hits and two runs.
"The kid has been amazing for two years. We have been blessed with great pitchers at PV," said Lady Panthers' head coach Kevin Werth.
"It is a testament to her. É She did an awesome job."
Piedra Vista took little time to get on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first inning against Aztec starting pitcher Angela Minjarez.
Danielle Ortiz led off with a walk and scored with two outs when freshman Haley Parson blasted a single to the outfield.
PV made its lead 3-0 in the third when Chandler, who singled to leadoff the inning, scored on a throwing error by Aztec catcher Taylor Santistevan, who tried to pick Chandler off at third base.
Fortner then laid down a squeeze bunt that scored Tabor Woosley, who also singled in the inning.
Alex Moreno, who was 2-for-3 on Saturday with a double, led off the inning with a single. Her courtesy runner, No. 8 Jordan Montoya, was brought home when Tegan Woosley ripped a double to right-centerfield.
The Lady Panthers took a 5-0 lead in the fifth when Tabor Woosley scored after leading off with a single. She came home on a No. 12 Jordan Montoya sacrifice fly.
Aztec's lone runs came in the sixth inning after Morris recorded a two-out single. Dakota Kaufman followed up Morris' single with a shot to an unoccupied right field as PV employed a shift in the outfield to play the percentages that Kaufman would hit a ball to left field.
Kaufman would come all the way around to score on an inside-the-park home run.
"We have been trying to hit that the last few years. The last time we did it was like 2007 when PV first started doing it," Aztec head coach Jose Santistevan said of Kaufman's home run. "It was fun to watch that. When you have (Morris) and (Kaufman) on the bases, you can score both of them on a hit like that. It was big excitement, and we had things going."
Amber Linker followed up Kaufman's homer with a single and, for a moment, it looked as though the Lady Tigers had one more comeback in them after fighting from behind in two games to win in extra innings on Friday in the loser's bracket.
But Fortner was able to retire Taylor Santistevan on a soft pop fly to Tegan Woosley at second base.
After playing three games and 23 innings on Friday, Jose Santistevan said his team showed no signs of fatigue on Saturday.
"I thought we were going to run out of energy (Friday), but we never did. We woke up (Saturday) morning and the girls were still ready to go and wanting to play this game. There was no fear in the kids," Jose Santistevan said. "It is PV against Aztec. Every time, we will come play them and see what happens. We had been gearing toward this game since we walked off the field after losing state to them last year. I had no doubt that whatever happened (Friday) wasn't going to affect us today."
Werth credited Aztec for reaching the state title game for a second consecutive season.
"For them to battle back (Friday) and win those three games to get to this point again, it is a testament to the way they play ball and the way we play ball in the Four Corners," Werth said. "For us to beat a team of that quality four times in one season for the second year in a row, that is a testament to our kids. There were two great teams going at it, and I thought it was a great state championship game."
Aztec loses four seniors from this year's team, all of whom have signed to play collegiate softball at some level.
The Lady Tigers return with a solid core of players, including Minjarez, Morris and Taylor Santistevan.
"We have a bunch of eighth-graders who will step up. Paige Adiar and Kinzie Reid will step in nicely, and it will be fun," Jose Santistevan said. "I would hope (Angela Minjarez) can be a top pitcher next year. She has been here for two years and got beat by Krissy (Fortner). Krissy is gone now. I know PV will have somebody and they will be good, but Angela is as good as anybody. Hailey Morris is also working hard in practice every day. She may end up being out No. 1 pitcher. You never know."
Jose Santistevan hopes next year is the year the Lady Tigers get over the hump and end PV's streak.
"There is something special going on over there. You look at the girls over there and you are wondering what Kool-Aid they are drinking, because whatever (Werth) is selling, they are buying and it works for them," Jose Santistevan said.
Werth said winning state hasn't gotten any easier over the last eight years, though preparing for it has become systematic with PV's trips to California to play national competition, as well as the top 5A teams from across the state.
"I don't think it is easy. I think I feel a lot more pressure than the kids," Werth said. "We don't want the kids to feel any pressure. That is why we put them through what we put them through. The schedule, the workouts and the practices. Hopefully, when we come back from California, everything for them does seem easy."
Werth credited his assistant coaching staff for yet another season of logging miles across the state to scout all of PV's potential competition.
"My coaching staff is un-freaking-believable. These guys travel a lot of miles, and we have more scouting reports than probably anybody in the state," he said. "That is why we play defense the way we do."
After all the work the players put in, Fortner said winning state gives them a taste of freedom.
"It never gets old. It is so much fun but, after all the hard work we put in, it feels like we can finally breath now," Fortner said. "Our coaches work so hard for us. This wouldn't be possible without all of them together."
John Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.