RIO RANCHO — The Aztec softball team is in unfamiliar territory.
The Lady Tigers will play for the state title for the fifth time in six years. But unlike all the other times, they'll enter Saturday's title game from the top side of the double-elimination bracket.
"We're done until (Saturday) at 12:30 for the first time ever. We're usually right out there," Aztec coach Roy Johnson said, pointing to the field. "We've played in the losers bracket four of the last five years and ended up in the finals. We've always been in that bracket."
Aztec earned its spot in the championship with a 3-2 win over second-seeded Artesia this afternoon at Cleveland High School.
In the win, star pitcher Paige Adair was brilliant, striking out 10 batters in seven innings pitched. But there was a stretch early in the game when Adair didn't look like herself.
She had trouble hitting her spots in the second inning, putting runners on second and third before getting out of the inning. Then in the third, Artesia had two on and one out when Adair was called for an illegal pitch and ended up walking the batter to load the bases.
Adair said she wasn't pitching as well as usual, despite having a good warm-up session before the game.
But after the illegal pitch, a visible change could be seen in Adair, and her intensity skyrocketed. She said she was upset by the call, but used it as motivation.
"I go through a lot with people trying to call illegal pitches on me, but I've learned to smile about it because what else can you do?" Adair said. "I know I'm doing the right thing. I just had to step it up at that point."
After the illegal pitch and ensuing walk, Adair struck out the next two Lady Bulldogs to get out of the inning.
In the bottom of the third, senior CheyAnne Simkins belted a two-out two run home run to give Aztec a 1-0 lead.
Aztec added to its lead in the fourth, getting an RBI from Jocelyn Ulrich.
In the fifth, the Lady Tiger made it 3-0 after a two-out rally that ended with a Kylie Brown RBI single.
Artesia got one run in the sixth and one in the seventh. But the comeback effort was thwarted when a ground ball back to Adair ended the game, stranding runners on second and third.
Aztec will play Artesia in the championship at 12:30 Saturday at the UNM softball field. The Lady Tigers need only one win to capture the title while their opponent will need to beat them twice.
KC, Bloomfield seasons end
Kirtland Central and Bloomfield's seasons came to an end at the 5A tournament today with both squads dropping two games on the second day of the tourney.
The No. 6 Lady Broncos lost a 3-2 heartbreaker to Artesia in their first game of the day.
KC coach Cody Gilmore said the Lady Broncos had opportunities to knock off the Lady Bulldogs, but mistakes by him and his players kept them from taking advantage.
With no time between that loss and a subsequent meeting with Alamogordo, KC never had a chance to recover emotionally and fell 10-0.
"We just ran out of energy," Gilmore said after the loss to Alamogrodo. "We gave everything we had (against Artesia), and we were just out of gas. That's all there is to it."
Bloomfield suffered a similar fate, only in reverse order.
The Lady Bobcats met Aztec in their first game and were beaten 8-0.
Turning around immediately to play No. 3 Roswell, the two sides fought through a pitcher's duel between Bloomfield's Ashley Lewellen and Roswell's Mykaya Olivas, with Olivas eventually getting the win 4-2 after nine innings.
"Obviously, it's not the outcome we were looking for, but they got it done in the extra innings, and we didn't," Bloomfield coach Freddy Perez said.
With two outs in the bottom of the fourth, Bloomfield's Felisity Atencio drove in one run with a triple.
Bloomfield maintained the 1-0 lead until the top of the seventh when Olivas hit a solo home run.
The two traded runs in the eighth, and in the ninth, Olivas provided another RBI to put Roswell up 3-2. Bloomfield allowed another run on an error.
The Lady Bobcats couldn't answer in the bottom of the inning.
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.