By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
LOS LUNAS — Despite scoring runs at an average of more than one per inning, there was a time on Wednesday when things didn’t look so good for Elida in the Class 1A state baseball quarterfinals.
But the Tigers rebounded from a two-run deficit and moved into the today’s semis with a 9-6 victory over Questa.
In a seesaw game, Elida (13-7) finally took the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth, scoring three times to erase a 6-5 deficit.
The rally started with Ever Varela’s one-out single to left. Questa pitcher Cruz Chavez III registered another out, but also walked a pair of Elida batters to load the bases.
Tigers pitcher Wesley Gilmore, who threw all seven innings, helped his own cause when he took a Chavez offering square in the back — a hit-by-pitch that drove in Varela to tie the game.
“It got me in the lung and it kind of took the breath out of me, but I was good after that,” Gilmore said.
The next batter, junior Trenton Chenault, connected for an opposite-field double to left to score both Cade Cathey and Levi Massey and give Elida an 8-6 lead. The Tigers added an insurance run in the sixth on an RBI single by Varela, driving home Tom Sullivan.
Gilmore, meanwhile, didn’t give up a run over the last three innings. That was a major change from the first four frames when Questa (10-10) scored a single run in the first, two in the third and three in the fourth.
“It was errors and maybe a little inexperience at this level,” said Questa coach Cruz Chavez II, whose team committed five miscues during the contest. “You have kids that haven’t been here and their eyes get a little big.
“We want to come back next year, so we have that experience. Elida, down the stretch, had that experience.”
The Wildcats looked poised to take control as they took a 6-3 lead in the fourth.
Questa got consecutive run-scoring singles by Adam Griffin and Marcus Cardenas in the third. One inning later, Andrew Keltner started a three-run rally with a double, which was followed by singles by Jared Herrera and Chavez III.
The highest point for Questa, and the nadir for Elida, came when Justin Herrera slammed a two-run home run to right to finish the rally.
“They were a really good hitting team and, anytime I made a mistake and went down the middle, they hit it,” Gilmore said. “That was really my problem at the first (part) of the game — I was leaving them over the middle.
“I started throwing a little more off-speed toward the end of the game, because they were really hitting my fastball. I tried to change it up and get them off-balance.”
“He’s always slow to warm up, but Wesley just gets stronger as the game goes,” Elida coach Jimmy Ward said. “He gets to 80 pitches and he’s just a bulldog on the mound.
“We brought our No. 1 pitcher, because I knew they’d be a great team.”
The Tigers face seventh-seeded Mesilla Valley, an 8-1 upset winner over second-seeded Gallup Catholic on Wednesday, in today’s 9 a.m. semifinal contest at Los Lunas High School.
Ward, whose team has played the SonBlazers once previously this season, said he would pitch Dan Massey in today’s game.
“They beat us 5-3, I believe,” Ward said of the SonBlazers. “They’re down to their No. 2 pitcher, too, so it may just have to be a slugfest.”
The winner advancing to Friday’s championship game at Isotopes Park in Albuquerque.