With their coach shouldering an emotional burden that many were not aware of, East Mountain Little League’s 8-10 All-Stars battled valiantly in their bid for a state championship.

But East Mountain just couldn’t get past Roswell’s Noon Optimist Little League.

East Mountain picked up a pair of victories to finish fourth in the New Mexico 8- to 10-year-old State Tournament that ran July 12-18 at Roadrunner Little League’s complex in Albuquerque.

But sandwiched around East Mountain’s wins were two losses to Noon Optimist—including a 14-4 defeat on July 16.

Noon Optimist built a 10-0 lead by the top of the fourth inning before East Mountain plated three runs in the bottom of the frame.

East Mountain added another run in the fifth, but Noon Optimist piled on four more in the sixth.

“We got down early,” East Mountain head coach Jay Pierce said. “Last night’s win was a huge win for us, and I was a little afraid maybe there’d be a little letdown today, but you know, they’re kids—they went 6-2 in their last eight games against some of the best teams in the state.”

The night before the elimination loss to Noon Optimist, East Mountain came out on top of an extra-inning barnburner against South Valley.

Scott Batie and Ryan Moorhead both scored three runs, and Clinton Moya, Jake Bibo, and E.J. Lucero each scored twice to help lift East Mountain to an 18-16 victory that lasted more than three and a half hours.

East Mountain sprang to an early 4-0 lead but fell behind 6-5 in the second inning.

Bibo’s double in the top of the third helped fuel a four-run spurt to lift East Mountain to a 9-7 advantage, but South Valley scored three runs in the fourth to forge ahead 10-9.

A slew of South Valley errors helped East Mountain put up five runs in the fifth to take a 14-10 lead.

But South Valley scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth and another in the sixth to knot the score at 14-14 and send the game into extras.

Owen Darnell drew a bases-loaded walk, Moya grounded out to drive in another run, and Batie’s RBI double capped a four-run seventh to put East Mountain up for good.

“We knew something like this might happen,” Pierce said. “A bunch of different kids came in, it didn’t go as planned, but they didn’t give up.”

The day before the South Valley victory, East Mountain scored four runs in the first inning, five in the fourth, and three more in the fifth to roll to a 12-3 win over Las Vegas-La Plaza Little League.

“I told them [before the La Plaza game], I was like, ‘Listen, if we lose, you guys are coming to my house and pulling weeds tomorrow because that’s what I’ll be doing,’” Pierce said. “And they said, ‘OK, we don’t wanna pull weeds,’ so I think that’s why we won.”

East Mountain received a first-round bye in the tournament and faced Noon Optimist for the first time on July 13.

East Mountain struck first when Bibo drove in Moorhead to stake a brief 1-0 lead.

Noon Optimist answered with four runs in the second, one in the third, another in the fourth and three in the fifth to stake a 9-1 advantage.

In the bottom of the fifth, East Mountain’s Micah Kamplain and Bosten Richards belted RBI hits to cap an eight-run explosion and tie the game at 9-9.

Micah Kamplain eyeing the umpire after sliding safely into home during East Mountain’s July 13 game against Noon Optimist. Photo by G. Demarest.

But Noon Optimist plated two runs in the sixth and held on for the 11-9 win.

“I think they were a little nervous—first game of the tournament—but it didn’t seem to bother them that much, they bounced back,” Pierce said.

Following East Mountain’s final loss to Noon Optimist, Pierce disclosed that he lost his father two days before the start of the tournament.

“My dad passed away last Thursday, so it’s been a little rough,” Pierce said. “He was my Little League coach and so it was kind of nice to be out here and not at home thinking about being sad. This was a great experience for me, so I tried to put it out of my head.”

The 8- to 10-year-old All-Star team was East Mountain’s first in that age group to make it to the state tournament since 1994. The current team matched the ’94 team’s effort with two wins and two losses.