Lady Tigers suffer 1-0 heartbreak in title game

Aztec needed two wins against Centennial to take home the title and managed to only beat the team out of Las Cruces once, losing the second game

Karl Schneider
  • Lady Tigers got on base in every inning but came up short against Lady Hawks pitcher Santana Parra.
  • Paige Adair started both games for Aztec. She struck out 11 players in the first game.
  • The team will lose only one senior to graduation, making it a favorite for the title next year.
Aztec's Paige Adair delivers a pitch against Centennial during the 5A championship game on May 14 in Albuquerque.

ALBUQUERQUE — The Aztec softball team fought off elimination from the 5A state tournament four times, but the Lady Tigers couldn’t find a way to do it a fifth time.

Needing two wins against Centennial to capture its first title since 2005, Aztec beat back the Lady Hawks 6-1 this morning before succumbing 1-0 later in the day in the second and decisive game at Lobo Softball Field.

"We’ve been here three or four times, and we always seem to get this red trophy, which we’re not overly excited about," Aztec head coach Roy Johnson said. "We feel like we’ve always been at the top. We were chasing (Piedra Vista) for years, and now we get here, but we’ll bust through one of these years and win one."

In the second game, the Lady Tigers got on base in every inning, but could never come up with a hit against Centennial’s Santana Parra when they needed it the most.

Johnson said there were no issues with the Lady Tigers’ approaches in the batter’s box. They just had trouble going up against a pitcher who has been one of the best in the state for the past three seasons.

"The two best pitchers in the state were out there," Johnson said. "Santana and Paige Adair are the two best pitchers in the state."

Adair, who started both games for Aztec, kept the Lady Hawks in check throughout the 1-0 loss, her only blemish coming on a solo home run from Nicole Guillen in the fourth inning.

After getting the lead, Centennial head coach Alex Maynez said the Lady Hawks got a boost of confidence, knowing Parra was on top of her game.

"I’ll tell you what, with Santana on the mound, one is enough," Maynez said. "And Aztec swings the bat. They have a good future with that team."

Going into the bottom of the seventh, Aztec had a good chance to extend or win the game.

With one out and a runner on first base in the bottom of the seventh inning, Aztec’s Sarrah Jones hit a hard line drive at Centennial’s Janai Gutierrez at shortstop. The sophomore had a lightning quick reaction to the ball, leaping up, snagging the ball out of the air and firing it to first base to complete the double play and end the game.

In the first game, Aztec got the usual dominant pitching performance from Adair.

The junior struck out 11 Lady Hawks in the 6-1 win. And as the game wore on, she and the Aztec defense made key plays to keep Centennial at bay.

In the sixth inning, Centennial worked the bases loaded with no outs, but the Lady Tigers got out of the jam without any damage.

Then in the seventh, Centennial put runners on second and third with no outs, but Adair struck out the next three batters to end the game.

Aztec's Ashlynn Bradley, right, and Ashlee Garcia console each other after losing the 5A state title to Centennial on Saturday in Albuquerque.

Aztec got its offense going right away when Adair blasted a two-run home run over the centerfield wall in the bottom of the first inning.

The Lady Tigers’ bat remained relatively quiet until Centennial threatened with its first run in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to 2-1.

Aztec responded with back-to-back singles from CheyAnne Simkins and Jones to lead off the bottom of the inning. Simkins and Jones were brought home two batters later when freshman Jocelyn Ulrich hit a home run over the bleachers in right field.

"The first game we out hit them, but they had two key hits, and one young girl (Ulrich) hit a shot over the stadium in right field and that was kind of the dagger for us," Maynez sai

Aztec added its fourth run of the inning when a Centennial error scored Kylie Brown.

Aztec's Kylie Brown sits on second base during a break in the action against Centennial in a state championship game on May 14 in Albuquerque.

While the second-place finish was short of what the Lady Tigers wanted, the team will be among the favorites to win the title next season after it loses just one senior from this squad to graduation.

"We’re hoping we’re building for the future," Johnson said. "The girls improved 100 percent. Our practices were a lot different, our intensity was a lot different, and it made everything we did better."

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.