AP NEWS

Robertson pitcher shoulders load on mound, at bat for team

April 13, 2019

McKayla Encinias is learning how to go from No. 2 to No. 1.

The Las Vegas Robertson senior went from being an important contributing member of one of the top teams in Class 3A for most of her Lady Cardinals career to being perhaps its most vital cog this season — vital enough to go from hitting No. 2 in the lineup last year to the top of the order this spring, and from the pitcher who came in for a spot start to being the ace.

She demonstrated her value in helping Robertson rebound from a tough loss at Santa Fe Indian School on Tuesday to sweep St. Michael’s in a District 2-3A softball doubleheader at Christian Brothers Athletic Complex on a cold, windy Friday afternoon. Encinias fired a two-hitter to win the opener, 10-0, in five innings, then came back to close out Game 2 in an 18-13 win that wasn’t a slugfest until the final two frames.

The two wins pulled the Lady Cardinals (10-8 overall) into a first-place tie with the Lady Braves at 4-1, and much of that is a credit to Encinias’ performance at the plate and in the pitching circle. However, she admits that she is not quite ready to take on the full load of pitching both ends of a doubleheader, and it shows in the pain in her right arm and her back. After throwing in Game 1, Encinias needed her back massaged to help ease the pain.

“I haven’t really pitched a lot in my previous years,” Encinias said. “This year is the first year I’ve had to throw a full seven-inning game. So it’s tough on my arm. I just need to get it stronger as the season goes along. I can hang for a while, but my arm has been hurting.”

It was hard for the Lady Horsemen (5-11, 1-5) to tell. They collected only a bunt single and a walk by senior shortstop Cia Alvarez as well as a base hit by second baseman Rachel Morgan. Encinias recorded five strikeouts and only allowed Morgan’s hit to get out of the infield.

She also went 2-for-4 with a two-run single in the second that opened the scoring. Encinias also drove in a pair of runs two innings later when she smashed a grounder in between Alvarez’s legs at shortstop for an error that scored two more runs for a 4-0 lead. She padded the lead to 8-0 in the fifth when Alvarez chased down a pop fly into shallow center field that slipped out of her glove as she fell to the ground, which led to Ashlynn Trujillo scoring.

In Game 2, she was a prolific 3-for-5 with a pair of runs scored and a pair of RBIs, then gutted out the seventh inning to seal the win. Encinias gave up four runs as St. Michael’s cut the lead to 18-13 before she got Michelle Salazar to strike out. While it wasn’t the prettiest of innings, Robertson head coach Robby Armijo admired her resilence to pitch again.

“She’s tough,” Armijo said. “I think she’s one of the best players in the state. She can go, and she’s a little banged up right now. If we can get her healthy, we’ll be all right.”

Health has been an important factor for the Lady Cardinals, especially for a pair of similarly-named teammates. Makayla Quintana has battled a sore left knee for much of the spring, which has sapped some of her speed. She looked spry against the Lady Horsemen, going 3-for-9 with four RBIs and four runs scored in the 2-hole behind Encinias.

The pair were crucial to holding off a suddenly lively St. Michael’s offense. The Lady Horsemen were three outs away from being mercy-ruled again as Robertson built a 12-2 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth. They had three straight singles, loading the bases to open the frame, then Isabel Lopez roped a two-run single to left field to start a seven-run rally to trim the margin to 12-9.

No problem. Encinias walked, then Quintana doubled to left to make it 13-9. Quintana scored on Kylee Moberg’s sacrifice fly for 14-9 with two outs. Left fielder Lynnsey Glidewell almost came up with the third out on a diving catch on Annalea Lucero’s blooper to short left field but couldn’t keep the ball in her glove. Lopez then dropped a Marissa Sanchez fly in right, which opened the doors to five more Lady Cardinals runs and an 18-9 lead.

“We had chances to get out of there, and we didn’t,” Lady Horsemen head coach Joe Alvarez said. “We gotta make them. Easy pop fly to second, we should have made that. We had a drop over here [in left], a couple got by us over here [on the left side of the infield]. We played a lot better defense than we have — until the end there.”

It would help to have a No. 1 who can do a little bit of everything — sort of like Encinias.