By Eric Butler, Freedom Correspondent
Facing an early 3-0 deficit and a struggling starting pitcher, Elida coach Jimmy Ward did what many good baseball managers would do. In a Class 1A state semifinal, Thursday morning in Los Lunas, Ward inserted reliever Caleb Widner in hopes of holding down Mesilla Valley’s bats and giving his team a chance to chip away at the lead.
And it all might have just worked too, if it weren’t for one sophomore lefthander from Mesilla Valley named Luke Smith. In a 5-0 loss to the SonBlazers, Elida almost never threatened Smith — who struck out 15 Tigers hitters and allowed only three hits.
Mesilla Valley (11-6) moved into the 1A championship game with the victory while the season for Elida (13-8) came to an end.
“That kid threw real well. He’s just a sophomore — it’s hard to believe it,” Elida coach Jimmy Ward said. “But we just didn’t show up to hit, that’s just all there is to it. We never have hit lefthanders all that good. I don’t know why — it’s just a mental thing.”
“We was hoping so, but we hadn’t seen but one or two lefties all year long. We just couldn’t pick up on him,” said Widner, Elida’s only senior in the starting lineup in the semifinal.
Widner was summoned to the mound with one out in the second inning. Elida starter Dan Massey had difficulty retiring the SonBlazers the first time through the Mesilla Valley lineup and, after hitting leadoff hitter Will Coppedge to start the second time around, Ward decided to go to Widner.
The Tigers senior, who allowed four hits in his four-plus innings of work, pitched out of difficulty in the third inning but couldn’t do the same in the fourth — when an inning-opening error by Elida helped lead to two more SonBlazers’ runs.
“Caleb did a great job. He’s our senior, has been our leader all year. He kept the ball low, kept them on the ground, but errors just killed us,” Ward said.
Meanwhile, nothing could be done to ruffle Smith’s feathers as only twice did Elida get runners to third base in the contest. Trenton Chenault eventually parlayed a first-inning single into being able to stand at third, where he watched Smith induce a pop-up to end the inning. Tom Sullivan, in the fourth, hit a bloop double to shallow right field and stole third with two outs before Smith recorded another K to end the threat.
The only other hit for the Tigers came with two outs in the sixth, when Massey singled to left. Smith then retired the last four Elida batters of the game to secure the win.
“It was real exciting going into it. It just didn’t work out the way we wanted,” Widner said.
After the game, Ward noted that the two smallest classifications of baseball will be combined back into one for the 2008 season.
“It was a successful season. We lose one senior, but we’ll be back,” Ward said. “We’ll go (into) 1A-2A next year, so it’ll be a little bit tougher, but we’ll still be allright.”