As Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” blared over the loudspeakers at Roadrunner Little League’s complex in Albuquerque, the East Mountain-Zia-Mile High Juniors Division All-Stars posed around home plate holding the coveted state champions banner. In an age where these children could be holding a birthday banner printing, they’ve already achieved fame and are holding such other banners.
“This is a memory to have forever, these kids were phenomenal,” head coach Sam Montoya said after his team clinched the title at the New Mexico Little League Juniors Division (14 year olds) state championship tournament July 20-22.
The combination All-Stars team, consisting of players from East Mountain, Zia, and Mile High Little Leagues, dismantled two teams in three games—beating one team twice.
The East Mountain-Zia-Mile High All-Stars used solid pitching, strong defense, and unstoppable hitting throughout the tournament to rack up 42 runs while giving up just 1 run.
Montoya cited the team’s chemistry as the key to its success.
“Having players from three [leagues] combined like this is rare,” Montoya said. “We knew the talent was there, so my main goal was chemistry and they all came out and shined in that category.”
After blanking South Valley Little League’s All-Stars 13-0 in the tournament opener, East Mountain-Zia-Mile High had to face the Taos Little League All-Stars twice.
In the first matchup with Taos on July 21, Sandia Park resident Connor McCall’s sacrifice bunt in the top of the first inning drove in Josh Tenorio for the game’s first run. “It was cool to be able to contribute right away and get the first RBI,” McCall said.
East Mountain resident Gabe Case’s 2-RBI double helped fuel a 4-run second inning. The other East Mountain player, Land Matthies, also scored during the frame.
The combo team added 5 runs in the fourth and blew the game open with 10 runs in the fifth to win 20-1.
Moises Abeyta pitched the complete game.
Taos eliminated Carlsbad from the tournament later in the day, setting up a rematch with the combo team in the July 22 championship.
“Taos is a strong team and we knew anything could happen, momentum can always change,” Montoya said. “But our boys kept their heads straight on task.”
Right off the bat in the championship contest, McCall and Tenorio plated runs in the first inning.
Tenorio—who also pitched the complete game—drove in Case in the second inning to put the combo team ahead 3-0.
After adding 3 runs in the third, Reese Polk’s 2-RBI single in the fourth inning drove in McCall and Abeyta to extend the lead to 8-0.
Abeyta scored the final run in the sixth.
Three groundball outs dispatched Taos in the top of the seventh to give the combo team the 9-0 victory—the first state title for a District 5 Juniors team in five years.
“Words can’t express how I feel about all of these boys, they were all very unselfish, never once did they get cocky,” Montoya said, adding that the contribution of the East Mountain players was “priceless.”
“We wouldn’t be here without them,” Montoya said. “For me, this team was like making a puzzle and East Mountain was a big piece of that puzzle.”
With the state title, the East Mountain-Zia-Mile High combo team will represent New Mexico at the Little League Juniors Division Southwest Regional Baseball Tournament, August 3-7 in Albuquerque.
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at [email protected]