Tigers top Artesia, move on in State Tourney

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Winning cures all ills – just ask the Los Lunas High baseball team.

The fifth-seeded Tigers closed the regular season with a pair of District 6-4A losses. But whatever ill effects they were feeling from those losses vanished with their 2-0 weekend series sweep over visiting Artesia as LLHS beat the Bulldogs 6-3 last Friday afternoon and 5-0 Saturday morning.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: DONALD CRUZ of Los Lunas High School, left, beats the tag of first baseman Artesia’s Trevor Eulenbach during a pick-off attempt during the Tigers’ game against the Bulldogs last Friday in the first game of the Class 4A State Tournament.

By winning the best 2-of-3 series, Los Lunas advances to Thursday’s quarterfinals of the Class 4A State Baseball Tournament, taking on 4th-seeded Santa Teresa at 3 p.m. at La Cueva High School.

Against Artesia, the Tigers fell behind early in Game 1, surrendering two runs in the first inning after putting runners in scoring position with a pair of fielding errors.

But starting pitcher Ruger Rodriguez clamped down on the ‘Dogs after that and Los Lunas’ bats awoke to produce a four-run fourth inning that swept away a 2-1 Artesia lead, giving the Tigers a 5-2 advantage.

The Bulldogs added a run in the fifth inning to add some drama, but the Tigers added an insurance run in the sixth for a 6-3 final score.

“With this team, a few keys hits are all they need and they kind of drive off of each other,” said Los Lunas head coach Pete Candelaria. “Ruger was on (Friday), so that was a big plus. We were able to string out a few hits. It’s typical of this team, they bust out with one big inning.”

LLHS hung nine hits on the Bulldogs in Game 1. Artesia (9-18) matched the Tigers with nine hits, but only scored one run in the final six innings.

Game 2 the next morning was a reversal of the usual Tiger trend as LLHS scored two runs in the first inning.

Meanwhile, starting pitcher Chuck Holt kept Artesia batters at bay, scattering out three hits and stranding five runners.

“This was the first game that we scored in the first inning in the last seven games,” said Candelaria. “We always start late. But we got a little bit of a cushion and Chuck threw a hell of a game.”

Los Lunas (21-7) managed four hits and drew four walks in Game 2.

Candelaria said the series win was “an advancement” for his team.

“We haven’t been to the quarters for a while,” he said. “I think they’re ready to play.

“We ended the season with two losses, we go into the quarters with two wins,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Candelaria said Santa Teresa, which defeated Valencia High 2-1 in the best 2-of-3 series last weekend, presents a bit of challenge for the Tigers in the quarterfinals.

“They’re a scrappy little team,” he said. “They put the ball in play and they’re fundamentally sound. Either way we have to play good baseball.”

Candelaria said he feels confident about his team performing up to its potential in today’s game.

“I think they’re going to step up,” he said of his team. “I just hope they play up to their talent. If they play to their talent they’re going to be fine.”