Jags find trouble in tourney

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No. 5 seeded Valencia got off to a great start in the Class 4A State Softball Tournament Thursday morning but was unable to continue that momentum through the rest of the double-elimination tournament and was eliminated Friday morning to end the Jaguars’ historic season.

VHS started off with a strong 12-2 win over No. 4 seeded Artesia in five innings Thursday morning at Rio Rancho High School.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: SENIOR MARISSA KITTERIDGE of Valencia beats out a throw to first during the Jaguars’ 14-2 state tournament loss to Aztec Friday.

But the Jags ran into trouble at the plate in their afternoon contest against No. 1 seed and eventual state champion Piedra Vista of Farmington, losing 11-1 in five innings Thursday afternoon at Cleveland High School.

Valencia then faced off against No. 2 Aztec in the consolation bracket Friday morning at UNM’s Lobo Field, where four early errors doomed the Jaguars to a 14-2 loss, eliminating the team from the tournament. The Jaguars ended the season 19-11, advancing to the semifinals of the state tournament for the first time in the program’s history after winning its first district title and first ever first-round victory.

It took an inning for Valencia to get going, but once they did, it was on for the Jags, who scored eight runs in the second inning on their way to a mercy-rule win over the Lady Bulldogs.

Trailing 2-1 going into the bottom of the second inning, VHS scored on RBI singles by senior Marissa Kittredge, sophomore Adrianna Carabajal and eighth-grader Alisha Vigil, as well as a two-run home run by junior Erin Sharpe, a double by junior Justine Otero, and a walk by junior Krystal Vargas.

Vigil went 1-of-3 at the plate, driving in a run and scoring two more runs as VHS managed 10 hits for the game.

“We came out and we were loose and hit the ball,” said VHS coach Jeff Young. “We drove the ball.”

Starting pitcher Amber Baca fanned four in throwing a three-hitter against Artesia.

“Amber did great,” Young said. “She made two mistakes, back-to-back home runs in the second inning. Other than that, she did a great job.”

The top-seeded Panthers steady scored from the get-go while their sophomore pitcher Megan Risner kept the Jaguars bats at bay before Piedra Vista scored eight runs in the fourth and fifth innings to end the game early Thursday afternoon.

Panther seniors Danielle Ortiz, Tabor Woolsey and sophomores Haley Parson and Autumn Begay combined for eight hits and seven RBIs in the win, roughing up the Jags starter Baca, who struck out two but was dinged for six runs in 3 1/2 innings of work.

“Every little blooper fell for them,” said Young. “We got a few bad jumps. Alexis got dinged up this morning and she missed a few balls that she normally gets to. But she still gave us her all.”

Valencia got its lone run of the game on an RBI single by Vigil in the third inning, cutting the Piedra Vista lead to 3-1 at the time.

Risner struck out six in holding Valencia to just four hits in five innings of work.

“She spins the ball well, she’s a good pitcher,” said Young of Risner. “(Overall,) I think we got a little tight. We need to stay loose in big games. We’re young and it showed.”

No. 2 Aztec was upset by No. 9 Bernalillo on Thursday. On Friday, the Tigers seemed to take our their frustration on Valencia, taking advantage of the Jags’ youth and got an early jump on their way to a dominating win.

“That’s the third time this year we’ve struggled with them early,” said Young. “You can’t give a team like that a lead. You just can’t do it.

“We made simple mistakes you can’t make. We had three errors in the first two inning.”

After getting the Jaguars out 1-2-3 in the top of the first, Aztec started their assault in the bottom of the first inning, scoring on an error then taking a 4-0 lead on a three-run homer run by junior Taylor Santistevan.

Meanwhile, Aztec senior Angela Minjarez limited Valencia to three hits over 3 and 2/3 innings.

The Tigers chased Jaguar starter Amber Baca, tagging her for nine of the 11 points Aztec scored in the first two innings.

The Jaguars rallied in the fourth, with a two-run double by Adrianna Carabajal, scoring Kayla Young and Kitteridge. But Santitevan struck out Vigil on the next at-bat to end the inning and the rally.

“You can’t do things when you’re down nine runs, it changes the complexion of the game. In all three games, they took us out of our element.

“Not a single one of our kids had been in this situation,” Jeff Young said. “Both teams we played (Piedra Vista and Aztec) have been in state title games the last two years.

“But now we just got 18 kids that same experience and hopefully next year we can take that next step. That’s our goal,” he said.

Junior Erin Sharpe, who spelled Baca on the mound Friday morning, agreed with her coach about the future of the Jaguars.

“We need to see this as a tool to build and work hard next year,” she said. “We’re all playing summer ball so that should help us. We’ll be back.”

Los Lunas seniors Angela Duran and Amanda Gonzales were both named to the South All-Star team this week. The duo will play in the 4A/5A State All-star series June 6-7 in Farmington.