ALBUQUERQUE — Welcome to Las Vegas — better known as Titletown, N.M., for the 2021-22 prep sports season.
For a school that bleeds Cardinal red, Las Vegas Robertson has become accustomed to the color blue. In a year that saw the school win Class 3A titles in football, boys and girls basketball and volleyball, it added one more to its trophy case, thanks to the softball program Friday morning at UNM’s Lobo Field.
The Lady Cardinals overcame an early 1-0 deficit on the strength of an offense that had no holes, a defense that made all the right plays and a pitcher who trusted her teammates. The result was an 8-1 championship win that secured the program’s first state title in its first championship appearance.
As great as the blue trophy was, it was made sweeter amid the challenges the Lady Cardinals and the
Las Vegas community has endured over the past three weeks as their homes were threatened — and in some cases, ravaged — by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire.
Robertson entered the tournament Wednesday with a grand total of two practices over the past two weeks, and they happened Monday and Tuesday as the team stayed in the Albuquerque area. Lady Cardinals head coach David Ulibarri said it was a testament to the resolve his team showed that many of them found ways to workout on their own, whether it was as a group on the field or finding batting cages to maintain their timing.
And it wasn’t just an individual effort.
“I told them, ‘My hands are tied, this is going on. Just remember, go do softball ownership, you guys take care of your stuff on your own,’ ” Ulibarri said. “There were a lot of great people in the community helping them off of the field. We can’t take that away as well as the parents’ support.”
The results of the Lady Cardinals’ dedication showed in the biggest moments against the Lady Braves in the fifth matchup between the two District 2-3A foes. They trailed for the first time in the tournament as SFIS held a 1-0 lead it took thanks to Aubrianna Herrera’s RBI single in the second inning.
While the dugout was full of chatter and confidence, the inner voices entertained moments of doubt.
“It was pretty stressful,” freshman pitching ace Arianna Sanchez said. “But when we came into the dugout [after the second], we said, ‘That’s the only run they’re going to get.’ ”
Sanchez’s words proved prophetic, but the offense still needed to get rolling. All it needed was a push. Senior Felicia Ulibarri provided it when she extracted a one-out walk out of Lady Braves ace Shadè-Phea Young, followed by Amor Allen getting plunked by Young.
Sanchez stepped to the plate and hit a sharp single to left field that scored pinch runner Callie Atwell to tie the score.
Sanchez said the bottom half of the lineup showed as the season went along it could be just as effective as the top half.
“I know our girls are capable of a lot,” Sanchez said. “They have really good at-bats. Once we get a rally going, there is no stopping us.”
A Gabriella Rivera walk loaded the bases for the top of the lineup — which had its first four hitters batting no worse than .489 on the season. It was a recipe for pure bliss for Robertson; and disaster for the Lady Braves.
No. 1 hitter Alexis Pacheco made Young pay almost immediately with a two-run single for a 3-1 Robertson lead. It made up for the home run she almost hit in Robertson’s 4-1 win over SFIS in the winner’s bracket final Thursday.
“It gave us a little more confidence,” Pacheco said. “It kind of opened it up a little. We knew [Young] was good. We were just ready for it.”
After Taylor Quintana struck out, SFIS intentionally walked Leigha Lucero to load the bases. Arianna Archuleta, who had two doubles and two RBIs against SFIS the day before, cleared the bases with a double and a 6-1 lead.
“I was more confident in my bats than I have been the whole year,” Archuleta said. “Since we knew they were going to walk Leigha the entire game, coach moved me to the four-spot, and that was the plan.”
While it was never uttered in either dugout, the outcome was no longer in doubt. Sanchez took care of that, allowing just four hits and no walks in her fourth complete-game win over SFIS.
The Lady Braves’ struggled in the field (three errors) and at the plate, scoring just 15 runs in five games in the tournament. That was well short of the five-run goal Lady Braves head coach Oliver Torres set prior to the start of the tournament.
“We just can’t quite climb over that hump yet,” Torres said. “We’re going to come back strong next year and try for it again. That’s all we can do.”
Chances are the Lady Cardinals will be right in the mix in 3A, as well. Both teams are stacked with young, talented players that will make them both contenders next year.
Robertson has nine underclassmen, including seven freshmen. SFIS loses six seniors, but only two were starters. Young, who showed she is the best pitcher in 3A, will return for her senior year, and eighth grader Hannah Martinez batted .333.
Archuleta said there is a chance the two teams will continue their battles into next year.
“They know us, we know them,” Torres said. “We’re gonna be back.”
Titletown, N.M., welcomes the challenge.