By Eric Butler: PNT Correspondent
With only one senior on the roster heading into the state tournament, the Portales Rams knew that their softball future was promising. They just didn’t know they would have to start thinking about that future so quickly.
The Rams were shellacked 14-0 by defending champion Grants when the Class 3A state tournament began on Friday.
Grants went on to edge Bloomfield in a semifinal game later that day and then earn a second straight title with a win over Shiprock on Saturday.
For Portales (18-9), the lopsided quarterfinal defeat was a bitter pill indeed.
“We didn’t hit the ball, we didn’t play defense. You could tell we were young, nervous,” Portales coach Robbie Crowley said. “Nerves got the best of us in the first inning and, hopefully, in the future the nerves won’t come back.”
As a district runner-up, Grants was the visiting team and got to come to the plate first. After Portales pitcher Sasha Parker struck out Jenee Chavez to start the game, a Jesi Rael single was followed by a walk and a hit-batsman to load the bases.
When Grants’ Heather Melonas drilled an opposite-field double over the head of Portales rightfielder Amanda Terry, the Pirates had a 2-0 lead. Later in the first, two more runs came across on an error and another score was tallied because of a passed ball for a 5-0 advantage.
Parker had a relatively good second inning, save for the fact that another run came in after a pair of Portales errors.
In the third frame, Grants effectively put the game away with five runs — including a three-run triple by Rael off Portales reliever Shareesa Nusser.
“We just need to go home and do some homework, come back and try it again,” said Crowley, who will have only one player — third baseman Adriana Romero —graduate.
While the Pirates had little trouble scoring runs off Portales, the Rams had great difficulty even getting hits off Grants’ pitcher Tomi Andy.
Ashleah Richards, a junior, singled in the second for Portales’ first hit. After Andy allowed only a walk in the third and fourth frames, the Rams had their greatest success in the fifth.
But a single to right by pinch-hitter Rebekah Gonzales and an infield hit from Terry, both with one out, was followed by Andy setting down the next two Portales batters to end the game.
The contest was shortened to five innings due to the ten-run mercy rule.
After the game was over, the Portales players reflected tearfully on their first experience at a state softball tournament.
“We don’t want to be here next year if it’s going to turn out like this,” Richards said. “She (Crowley) knows we can do it. We have to work hard this summer, because you can’t win a state championship with only two months of playing.
“(Andy) was nothing better than what we’ve faced all year long,” she added. “I think it was just nerves. I don’t know, we’re just not used to being in this atmosphere.”