Fuego win Pecos League championship series

The Santa Fe Fuego pose with the trophy Friday night after winning the Pecos League Championship Series over the Alpine Cowboys in Alpine, Texas. Courtesy Andrew Dunn

From doormat to champion in less than three years.

On Friday night at Kokernot Field in Alpine, Texas, the Santa Fe Fuego captured the first championship in team history by beating Alpine 7-3 in Game 3 of the Pecos League Championship Series, clinching the series 2 games to 1.

The Fuego won all four of their playoff games while facing elimination, overcoming a pair of 1-0 deficits to Trinidad and Alpine by winning the final two games in each series.

They never trailed in Friday’s game, scoring a pair of runs in the top of the first inning and adding two more in the second.

Catcher Erik Kozel, the league’s most valuable player in the regular season, got things going in the right direction almost immediately. He hit the third pitch of the game, a slider over the middle of the plate, off Alpine starter Brett Kennedy just over the wall in left for a solo home run and a 1-0 lead.

“I think sometimes a guy just gets lucky,” Kozel said. “We hadn’t faced him before and we weren’t sure what to expect. That one pitch, he just put it in there for me and I was lucky enough to hit it hard.”

Kozel finished 4-for-6 and had hits in each of the first three innings as the Fuego opened a 4-0 lead after two frames.

Omar Artsen followed Kozel’s homer with a single, a stolen base and a run scored when Chevas Numata laced an RBI single to left in the top of the first.

Artsen then delivered an RBI single to right to plate Nick Billinger in the second inning. Numata followed moments later with a single to left to bring home Kozel to open a four-run lead.

Despite the fast start, Santa Fe missed several golden opportunities to blow the game wide open. The Fuego stranded seven runners in the first three innings, including the bases loaded in the third against Cowboys relief pitcher Anthony Figliolia.

Although shaky in that third frame, Figliolia settled down and retired 13 of the next 15 Fuego hitters he faced, giving up only one hit in the next three-plus innings. He single-handedly kept the Cowboys in it as they eventually got to Santa Fe starter Preston Zachrich.

The team’s winningest pitcher during the regular season, Zachrich worked into the sixth inning before giving way to Austin Carden. Carden’s most recent appearance was a complete game shutout in the Trinidad series, meaning he was taking the mound on just three days’ rest.

He worked out of a jam in the sixth and seventh innings before Alex Teal and Tyler Herr came on to pitch an inning apiece to close things out. Herr, a 6-foot-9 righthander signed late in the season, retired the side in order in the bottom of the ninth in a non-save situation.

He got the final out on a shallow fly ball to center by Tyler Heck.

“That was just a surreal feeling, knowing it was something I’d been dreaming about and thinking about all year. All these amazing things run through your head when you know you’ve really done it. That it’s finally over.”

Alpine owned the league’s best record virtually all season, including wins in five of six meetings against Santa Fe before the playoffs. The league champions two years ago, the Cowboys appeared to have the magic ingredient for a rally after stunning Roswell twice and Santa Fe once with walk-off wins earlier in the playoffs.

It’s something Kozel said he and the rest of the team knew very well.

“In situations like that, where they’ve got someone on the mound making things hard on us and then they’ve got that history of doing things like coming back, all we can do is come back in [to the dugout] and talk about it with each other and figure out what we need to do,” Kozel said.

Zachrich got credit for the win, giving up seven hits with no walks in his time on the mound.

The Fuego had 16 hits, including three apiece from Artsen, Numata and Billinger.

Kozel lauded the efforts of the Fuego coaching staff, particularly manager Bill Moore. The only skipper in team history, he was there when Santa Fe finished last in its first season in 2012, then came a game and a half short of the playoffs last season after closing the year on a nine-game winning streak.

The Fuego led the Northern Division from start to finish this summer, more than doubling the club’s entire win total from that first season in the league.

(14) comments

Donald Sure

Mr. Moore does not want to come back. Behind the scenes issues he says. I wonder what they were. Please tell, we would like to hear the truth about the city, the league and anything else that got to you.

Destiny Baca

How can anyone be so negative about a very good thing that Santa fe has? We go to every home game and enjoy having a venue to spend time together. My grandson ran the bases....if you don't like baseball don't go. Let the rest of us enjoy. Thanks to all that made it happen.

Jerome Romero

As a parent of one of the only local boys who have played for this great Fuego team i would encourage if someone is going to post or be negative they should at least support or show up to see how great these kids are.It is embarrassing to see how someone can question other peoples motives and all the young players who work their butts of to make the cut.These kids or young adults pay to come and play for our team,if we have that many good local kids who would love to try out they have every opportunity,but they need to show up and try out just like all the ones from other states who come and play for us.It is sad to see how some people just cant appreciate the good job Ron Trujillo has done to push to give us Santa Fe family's some where great to go and enjoy with our family's a great team.As one of the largest family's in Santa Fe i thank any and everyone who has supported our Fuego team.I have been to every home game and hosted 3 Fuego players,and yes had to buy 3 times more food,pay more utilities and make more sacrafices to help these kids ,i dont need a pat on the back as my family does this out of the kindness of our heart .So please if you have a negative oppion please let us know how you helped out or supported any of the Fuego team.Thank you

Jeff Karsh

Some sort of public celebration would be nice, don't you think? Doesn't have to be elaborate.....maybe even a drive-by or stopover during 'music on the Plaza'. But just some kind of recognition seems appropriate and well-deserved.


I can provide a little more insight--- this year our SF Fuego represented 18 states and 2 countries, with 25 players and 3 coaches--- if you consider Mr Brandt's previous post about his family spending at least 2k in our city - multiply that by at least 15 (give or take) families who came out to support their sons-- now we also had players families from opposing teams come out for one our two series and stay in our city- not to mention a couple of players paying rent here in our city since they brought families with them for the summer.. Plus we had opposing teams staying in SF hotels. In addition, as Counselor Trujillo stated Fuego & opposing teams eating at our restaurants, gassing up at our stations and shopping in out stores-- Now let's talk about how this team provided a great atmosphere with a affordable friendly family oriented environment where you could bring your entire family out to enjoy great baseball, beautiful scenery and make new friends- and don't forget running the bases with the mascot. Also, Fuego made sure to invite numerous nonprofit organizations out to the ballpark not only to raise awareness but in some cases donate a portion of ticket sales- organizations like- Esperanza Shelter, NM Cancer Foundation, Girl Scouts, Lensic Preforming Arts etc.. The team provided clinics to some little leaguers and allowed little leaguers on the field during introductions - read books to our youth at the Southside Library and waited for hours after each game to allow the youth of our city an opportunity to meet them, get autographs and even toss the ball around a bit------ All of this combined is a definate WIN for our city of Santa Fe!!! Good job Counselor.

Donald Sure

Ok. You have convinced me of the financial windfall the City has benefited from as a result of the Fuego.

If you want to get me excited about this team, how about a rule that our team must be made up of at least 50% local (Santa Fe, Espanola, Los Alamos) talent. I know for a fact we could field a team from these communities that would truly be Santa Fe, and competitive at that.

I am not talking about washed up self gratifying players, but 20-25 year olds with a talent for the game.

As for the numbers in attendance, on any given night in the late spring and early summer you can easily find equal numbers at little league and AABC games.

Mark Ortiz

LOL! You are a piece of work Donald. "If you want to get me excited about this team" Oh yea, because that's what all of humanity is here for, YOU Donald.
Maybe Commissioner Dunn will let you manage a team strictly made of Northern New Mexicans. See how your team does. Shoot, I’d go watch it, but for now the “glass half full” crowd are Fuego Faithfull.
Congrats Fuego! Thanks to all the volunteer staff, host families, and fans of this year’s team. This trophy wouldn’t have been possible without ya'll. Councilor Trujillo, I do believe we need to prepare for the future. Although we don't know if this League/team will last I think it'd be in Santa Fe's interest to start a kind of physical Fuego archive and I don't mean your garage, haha. Facebook really can't be the only documentation of what may hopefully be generations of Fuego baseball memories. Trophy (s), photos, jerseys, bats, balls, all should be collected for a museum like building (room) honoring the Fuego, which I plan on supporting for decades to come. And Donald, yes, I hope to see more hometown/area players in Fuego uniforms. Jerome Romero and Rodney Tafoya will forever be linked to the foundation of what I hope with be a Santa Fe tradition.
Now if we can only convince Coach Bill Moore to return defend his title.

Mark Ortiz

Councilor Trujillo, I didn't mean to imply you were personally acquiring memorabilia from the League, but we should start collecting items somewhere. If feasible, signed catcher's mask from Scott Palmer, bats by Chris Brown, Evan Kholi, Devonte Odomus, Erik Kozel, balls by Jerome Romero, Rodney Tafoya, Austin Carden, base by Omar Artsen, Jersey by Coach Bill Moore.

Bill Moore

Unfortunately I will not be returning to Santa Fe, ever. The things that went on behind the scenes this year were too much for me to handle. I'm getting old as you all know, and I'm starting to slowly lose my mind. And to be honest, I didn't enjoy Santa Fe or the people in it. I will spend my remaining days being tall, dark, and handsome at the bar nearest to my home in Arizona. Goodbye.

Ronald S. Trujillo

Mr. Sure I assure you I do not want to be elected pope. I can't give you definitive numbers because I don't know where fans from other cities stayed when they came to Santa Fe, I do know that fans, teams and family members of Fuego players stayed in Santa Fe hotels, ate at Santa Fe restaurants, gassed up at Santa Fe Fuel Sites, and shopped at Santa Fe stores.

I never claimed this would bring in millions of dollars to the city. As a resident who was born and raised here I wanted to bring an opportunity for another type of family entertainment that Santa Fe has never had, and the Fuego have filled that spot quite nicely.

During the Northern Division Championship Series there must have been over 800 fans in the stands at Fort Marcy IMO that is fantastic yes the majority them are from Santa Fe, and that's why it's so great to see locals enjoying their team play.

This was my dream to see Santa Fe families having fun, enjoying themselves and being able afford a night at the ballpark

Mr. Sure I invite you to come out to Fort Marcy next season and enjoy a game and see for yourself the positive impact the Santa Fe Fuego Baseball Tem has had on this community.

Councilor Trujillo

Richard Brandt

A few figures for the ledger: take away the air fare, and my New Hampshire family, joined by family "figures" from San Diego and Minnesota, spent two grand, give or take, in Santa Fe for five days at the end of June, there to watch the Fuego play baseball.

Richard Brandt

Donald Sure

Congratulations to the Fuego. I guess a championship is a championship.

Before we elect Ron Trujillo Pope, maybe now is a good time to ask him to provide the actual numbers related to the promised increase in gross receipts taxes. The increase in occupancy rates for those traveling to see the Fuego play. The increase in revenue for restaurants that was promised. How about it Ron. What are the numbers?

Although he (Trujillo) obviously reads this forum, I'll bet we will never see the numbers. Why, because this is, and always has been, about one mans dream of higher office and a list "of accomplishments" he will surely point to in about four years.

Dave Weymouth

Ronald Trujillo showed leadership in bringing baseball to Ft. Marcy Ballpark. Three years ago there was a lot of opposition to "rowdy, beer drinking fans" at the local parks venue. This has turned out to be a nonsense concern. The fans have been family oriented, polite and a positive reflection on the city of Santa Fe. Mr. Trujillo pushed back against the ignorance, and the result was enactment of council ruling bringing entertainment and economic activity to a parks facility which was vacant and unproductive. We need more of this progressive leadership in state government in NM. Trujillo for Governor, anyone?

Ronald S. Trujillo

Congratulations to the Santa Fe Fuego on winning their 1st Pecos League Championship. Its amazing what this team has accomplished in 3 years. Thanks to all the Fans who have supported this team since 2012. Some people didn't think that a professional baseball team could succeed here in Santa Fe. Thankfully former Councilors Ortiz, Romero, Wurburger and Mayor Coss believed in my vision of bringing this team to Santa Fe so that there would be some type of affordable family entertainment for locals to enjoy. In 3 years the Fuego have gone from worst to 1st, and the support for this teams continues to grow every season.

Congratulations Coach Moore and your coaching staff.

Santa Fe this is your CHAMPIONSHIP enjoy it.

Santa Fe City Councilor

Ronald Trujillo

GO FUEGO [beam]

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Santafenewmexican.com. Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.