Anything was possible for East Mountain’s fifth-seeded baseball team during its Class 3A postseason run.
After the Timberwolves routed No. 4 Robertson in the May 12 state quarterfinals, top-seeded St. Michael’s and No. 2 Sandia Prep were both eliminated the same day.
The next day, the T’Wolves outlasted No. 8 Santa Fe Indian School in the semifinals with a dramatic walk-off win, and East Mountain had its sights set on its first state crown in 10 years.
But in the May 14 state championship contest—the T’Wolves’ first appearance in the title game since 2012—they dug themselves a hole they couldn’t climb out of.
On the big stage of UNM’s Santa Ana Star Field, facing the No. 3 New Mexico Military Institute Colts—a team East Mountain beat twice this season—the T’Wolves’ season ended in a 17-1 defeat.
Neither East Mountain’s starting pitcher Trace Krueger nor the T’Wolves’ defense were as sharp as usual, and the game quickly got out of hand. The T’Wolves issued six walks, hit two batters and committed a couple of errors to stake NMMI to an 11-0 lead by the third inning.
In the fourth, after four more bases on balls, a couple more East Mountain errors, and a couple of wild pitches, NMMI tacked on six more runs to go up 17-0.
East Mountain’s offense never got on track against NMMI’s starting pitcher Luis A. Patron. Patron, New Mexico’s high school strikeout leader, fanned 12 East Mountain batters while scattering four hits.
Cole Phillips led off the fourth with a triple and came home on Garrett Hitchcock’s infield single for East Mountain’s only run.
The T’Wolves had a flicker of hope in the fifth when Patron reached his pitch limit and NMMI’s reliever plunked Deshawn Torrez-Griego and walked Phillips to load the bases.
But with two outs, the umpire rang up Garrett Darner on a 3-2 pitch that was up around his arm pits and East Mountain’s season was over.
“It was a rough game,” East Mountain head coach Ray Demarest said. “A lot of it was Patron, he’s got velocity, but we didn’t take advantage of the mistakes they made, they took advantage of the mistakes we made, and that’s the difference in the ball game.”
Phillips, one of five East Mountain seniors, said the loss was hard knowing he had just played his final game with teammates he’s played with since Little League, but added, “We made it to the championship, and to be able to play in this stadium on this field, it’s unreal.”
In the May 13 semifinals against Santa Fe Indian School at Rio Rancho High School, the T’Wolves scored three runs in the first inning. SFIS answered with two in the second.
Hitchcock scored on a balk in the third to push East Mountain’s lead to 4-2. But SFIS surged ahead 5-4 in the top of the fifth.
In the bottom of the frame, Krueger mashed a two-run homer over the left field fence to regain the lead.
SFIS tied the score 6-6 in the top of the seventh.
In the bottom of the seventh, Krueger reached on an error and Hitchcock moved him to second base with a sacrifice bunt.
Tristen Nemitz then deposited a bloop base hit into center field and Krueger came around to score the walk-off run as the team came out and smothered him in a dog pile at home plate.
“Ray was waving me, and I just put my head down and ran home,” Krueger said.
“I knew it was gonna drop, I knew he was gonna score,” Demarest said. “Garrett executed the bunt perfectly, and Tristen went up and did his job, probably the biggest hit of his life.”
In the quarterfinals, East Mountain clobbered Robertson 16-2.
Left-handed sophomore Logan Aucker, making his state tournament pitching debut, went the distance for the T’Wolves, giving up just two runs on two hits while striking out eight.
“It was huge, it was my first state game,” Aucker said.
East Mountain’s offense erupted with a 16-hit attack: Cooper Davis hit two doubles and an RBI triple and scored four runs; Darner had three RBIs on a double and a triple and scored three runs; Krueger drove in two runs with a triple; Phillips had two triples, four RBIs, and scored four runs. Torrez-Griego had three hits and scored two runs; Rylen Radosevich had a pair of hits including a triple.
“It feels so good to finally beat them, I mean really beat them,” Davis said after the rout. “It was bad for them, good for us.”
After the loss to NMMI, Demarest, who pitched in East Mountain’s last state championship in 2012, said, “We got to the championship, it’s huge for the school, it’s just bittersweet to get this far and not come home with the first-place trophy.”