Lady Dons rout Lady Cardinals
Jaz Sanchez was on her knees, face to the dirt with tears streaming down her face.
A quartet of teammates just a few feet away hugged and cried, nearly toppling over dominoes-style into a group of fans who’d made their way onto the field.
In the dugout was head coach Pamela Sandoval, walking from one end of the chain-link enclosure to the other, rubbing her brow as she choked back her emotions.
To the uninformed, the moments immediately following West Las Vegas’ win over its crosstown rival during Thursday’s Class 3A State Softball Tournament would have left you thinking the Lady Dons had just won the state title. Not quite, but just about if you believe the coach in charge of the program.
“I think we just did,” Sandoval said when told her team’s reaction made it seem as though the Lady Dons had won it all. “I really think that. We needed this. We really needed this.”
West’s 13-5 win over top-seeded Las Vegas Robertson wrapped up a weird day at Cleveland High School’s sprawling athletic complex. Class 3A’s top two seeds were dispatched to a Thursday morning elimination game against one another, and a number of local teams were sent home without so much as a win. That includes the entirety of the 4A and 1A-2A brackets, whose combined entries of Pecos, Mora and McCurdy in the small schools on Wednesday and Pojoaque Valley, Española Valley and Los Alamos last week in 4A, were sent packing as one-and-dones.
That left just the 3A tournament, which saw both West Las Vegas and Robertson roll through Wednesday’s opening round and Santa Fe Indian School lose a heartbreaking 1-0 decision to Tularosa.
That led to the Lady Braves’ equally painful 6-5 loss in an elimination game to Cobre. SFIS led 5-1 in the sixth inning when the Lady Indians rallied for five unanswered runs and the win. It followed the loss to Tularosa in which SFIS stranded seven runners in the first three innings and held the Lady Wildcats to just four hits.
“The better team did not win that game,” said SFIS head coach Oliver Torres. “The softball gods weren’t on our side. We talked about it before the first game; if we beat Tularosa we thought we’d play Dexter in the next one and we knew we were going to the state championship. We just knew it. Then we lost that game and wound up with Cobre. It worked all in reverse for us. It threw everything off.”
West’s win over Robertson certainly throws everything off for the tournament’s top team. The Lady Cardinals (19-9) now must win five straight games over the next two days to win the title.
Should fourth-seeded West Las Vegas (22-6) beat Tularosa on Thursday morning, it would advance the Lady Dons into Friday’s championship round knowing they would have to lose twice to come away empty.
Maybe Sandoval isn’t so far off base, after all. She said the secret to the blowout win over Robertson was twofold.
“For the first time this year, no cellphones before the game,” she said. “They were focused and ready, locked in as a team. I could feel the difference in the dugout as soon as we got here. We were ready to play.”
The other secret was sophomore Jennifer Sanchez, the hand-picked starting pitcher who had not faced Robertson in any of the team’s previous three meetings — all Lady Cardinals wins. Aside for a rough second inning in which she gave up four runs on four hits and three walks, she was steady as a rock.
The other six frames saw her surrender just two hits and one run, more than enough after the Lady Dons blew it open with two runs in the fifth and six more in the sixth.
Sanchez credited her teammates for keeping her in it after her one and only tough frame. The message was simple: She’s out there for a reason, and that’s to catch Robertson off guard with a pitcher they’d never seen before.
“I was about to pull myself out of the game that second inning and they put me back in,” she said. “They got the four runs, I thought they were going to come back.”
The Lady Dons never trailed, scoring four runs in the first inning and leading 5-0 after Maddie Griego reached third on a missed fly ball to left, then scored on a triple by Jade Ulibarri.
As impressive as West Las Vegas was Wednesday — the Lady Dons opened with an 11-1 rout of No. 5 Laguna-Acoma — the road to a blue trophy is still going to require some heavy lifting. Just don’t tell the Lady Dons.
Speaking with a broken voice and tears in her eyes, Sandoval said it’s all there for the taking. The blue trophy is well within reach.
“It’s not over, I know,” Sandoval said. “But we had to have this one. We can’t win it if we don’t get Robertson right here.”