By Eric Butler: CNJ Correspondent
LOS LUNAS — Texico may have only lost four players from last year’s Class 1A championship baseball team, but Wolverines coach Richard Luscombe noted on Wednesday that four replacements got their first good look at state playoff action.
Fortunately for Texico (13-7), the team was able to shake off some collective jitters and roll past Penasco 12-2 to advance into today’s semifinal round.
The beginning of the game gave no accurate portrait of what was to come as the Wolverines led only 3-2 through four innings — and had only three hits to their credit at the time.
“We’ve basically got four rookies out there and they were pretty nervous,” Luscombe said. “They (the Panthers) are a pretty good team and we just didn’t take advantage early.”
But Texico owned the last part of the game and tallied four runs in the fifth and five more in the sixth to force the 10-run mercy rule. Along with two singles in the fourth, the last three frames were filled with eight Wolverines’ hits.
Before that outburst, Penasco (15-7-1) lefty Jason Gonzales, when his control was accurate, was consistently frustrating the Texico hitters.
Other than the side of the body where the pitches were coming from, the Texico hitters said that Gonzales’ offerings were hitable — although they weren’t doing it at the time.
“The only time we had seen it was just the other day, against Elida. We just don’t see it much,” said Luscombe of facing a left-hander.
“It’s nothing we haven’t seen. We just needed to pull our heads out,” Texico sophomore Jesse Walthers said.
A two-run single by Walthers in the fifth finally gave the Wolverines some breathing room — in the form of a 5-2 advantage. Later in the fifth, Zane Anderson hit his own two-run single up the middle off Gonzales for a five-run margin.
Texico pitcher Theo Marez started the game quickly by striking out the side in the first inning. Actually, Marez fanned four Penasco batters in the first, but one reached base via a passed ball on the third strike. Marez finished with 12 strikeouts on the day.
The Wolverines got on the board first when Aaron Vaughan hit an opposite-field single in the bottom of the first to score Anderson.
Penasco, however, went ahead when the Panthers tallied two in the top of the third. The first run scored on an errant throw from the outfield after Gonzales singled and the second thanks to a Joseph Gurule single to center.
The defending state champs rebounded quickly though and, in the bottom of the third, scored two themselves. Texico’s pair of runs, however, came as the result of three wild pitches and a pair of Penasco errors.
“We’ve got some more work to do, but I’m proud of them,” Penasco coach Henry Lopez said. “Those errors just killed us. That’s it in a nutshell. If we make those plays, we’d have been in the game.”