St. Michael’s breezes past Zuni in lopsided wins
While in the process of outscoring visiting Zuni 34-1 in a comically lopsided opening round playoff series Saturday afternoon at the Christian Brothers Athletic Complex, the players from the St. Michael’s baseball team had to get creative to find a little drama.
They finally found it when the teammate everyone knows as “Willie” tried to carry out his own personal vendetta with a broken bat. He cracked it just above the handle early in Game 2 of an 18-0 rout that completed a series sweep to send the Horsemen into this week’s Class 3A quarterfinals against No. 12 seed Dexter.
Four teams from District 2-3A survived the opening round best-of-three series as No. 1 Las Vegas Robertson and No. 3 West Las Vegas rolled to four blowout wins by a combined score of 53-0.
Santa Fe Indian School finished out that group, sweeping its series against Navajo Prep with a 13-3 win. It leaves half of the remaining field from 2-3A with three of those teams on the same side of the bracket when the tournament resumes in Rio Rancho.
Robertson will face SFIS in one quarterfinal while the Horsemen and Dexter are opposite them. The winners meet Friday in the semifinals. West Las Vegas will get Cobre on its half of the bracket Thursday alongside the East Mountain-New Mexico Military contest.
Dexter is the only team not seeded 1 through 8 to make it out of the first round. The Demons swept No. 5 Socorro. Everything else went according to plan with 2-0 sweeps in six of the seven remaining series.
As compelling as it was to discuss the weather-related delays from the opening round, it was just as uneventful to watch the games actually unfold. St. Michael’s was unchallenged as Zuni managed just four hits and a single run in a pair of contests halted in the fifth inning due to the mercy rule.
Thomas Erickson threw a one-hitter in the second game while his catcher, freshman CeeJay Saiz, homered in each game and nearly had a third when a deep fly ball smacked off the fence in left field in the nightcap.
Everyone who played did some sort of damage as St. Michael’s scored in seven of their eight innings.
Enter Willie, aka Andrew Salazar.
One of two seniors on the Horsemen roster, he is easily one of the more interesting personalities on the team. He’s outspoken, demonstrative and determined to keep an upbeat, positive attitude in the dugout.
He even got together with fellow senior Aiden Gantt to organize an off-campus team building party that involved pingpong, hanging out and a trust fall from the back of his dad’s pickup.
“Willie is definitely different,” Saiz said. “He’s a weirdo. He’s an odd one.”
Salazar also had the dugout laughing in the fourth inning of Game 2 when he put on a helmet, grabbed his broken bat and tried snapping it in half by pulling it down as hard as he could over the crown of his lid. It made a few cracking noises but wouldn’t break, so he ditched the helmet and tried karate chopping it against one of the concrete support posts.
“I think I got a concussion,” Salazar said after the failed helmet experiment.
He also reached base all six times he came to the plate Saturday, including an RBI double in the eight-run second inning of Game 2 to put the series to bed. It was the kind of inning, the kind of game, the kind of series that gives the Horsemen a measure of momentum heading into the single-elimination portion of the postseason.
For St. Michael’s head coach Augie Ruiz, it’s a time for his team to get back to basics — and for his coaching staff to get back to some much-needed individualized coaching.
“The JV season’s over, so now it’s just the varsity out here at practice,” Ruiz said. “Now that we’ve gotten some time between games and fewer players out on the field, it gives us a chance to break into smaller groups and work on things like their swings, giving us a chance to really focus on three or four guys at a time and talk to them about making little adjustments.”
A pair of players who seemed to benefit were Saiz and junior Jack Boggs. Saiz had never homered in a high school game until Saturday while Boggs went deep for the first time in the 16-1 win in the opener.
“We needed a couple games like this, where guys could swing the sticks and we could build a little momentum going into next week,” Ruiz said.
All year, Ruiz has been talking about the youth and inexperience of his roster. Now 28 games into the season, the youth isn’t nearly as big of a factor as it was in March.
“It’s like a different team now,” Salazar said. “I think Aiden and I saw how last year’s team didn’t always get along, and we knew we had to kind of change it. All the younger guys on the team, we just wanted them to have fun and come together as brothers. As long as we can still do stuff to work together I think we can forget about all that other stuff and just go out and win baseball games.”
And for the record, he never did get a chance to snap that bat before everyone began heading home.