Estancia’s final home game of the regular season came down to the final strike.
In the seventh inning of their April 26 matchup against the visiting Menaul School Panthers, the Bears were holding a 10-7 lead.
With two outs and a Menaul runner on base, Estancia’s starting pitcher Roman Moran reached his pitch-count limit.
Bears head coach Randy Archibeque turned to Dre Moreno to take over the pitching duties.
“I was a little nervous about Dre cuz we haven’t really pitched him,” Archibeque said. “He only pitched one game this year.”
Moreno plunked the first Menaul batter he faced, putting two runners aboard. That brought the tying run to the plate.
Moreno got two strikes on the final Menaul batter and then reached back, fired a fastball and got a big swing and a miss.
The Bears held off Menaul 10-7, splitting the season series with their only district rival. And thanks to the three-run win, the Bears claimed the district title.
“We split the season series with them, and it goes to a tiebreaker based on run differential,” Estancia athletic director Stewart Burnett said. “They beat us by two yesterday, we beat them by three today, so yeah, that’s why it was such a tense moment.”
“You know, gosh, that’s probably one of the most nail-biters that we’ve had in my career,” Archibeque added.
In Class 2A baseball, District 2 consists of just two teams, Estancia and Menaul.
The Bears had just played Menaul—and lost 8-6—on April 25. The game was played in Bernalillo because Menaul doesn’t have its own field.
The district title came down to Tuesday’s home game.
In the top of the first inning, Menaul drew a leadoff walk followed by a base hit. An Estancia error allowed Menaul to score the game’s first run. A sacrifice fly gave the Panthers a brief 2-0 advantage.
In the home half of the first, Moran led off with a double. Nathaniel Montoya drove him in with a line drive that sliced between Menaul’s left fielder and center fielder and went to the fence. Montoya made it to third on the hit.
“I just waited for the ball to come in, got perfect contact on it and got it straight to the gap,” Montoya said. “It started the team up, right after that we started hitting and hitting.”
Eladio Bernal’s base hit drove in Montoya. Camden Smith smacked a two-RBI double. Moran, batting for the second time in the inning, hit an RBI single to give the Bears a 6-2 lead.
In the second inning, Estancia’s Eri Candelas reached base on a Menaul error. He advanced to third on another error. When Menaul caught a pop up by Smith in foul territory off the first base side, Candelas tagged up, dashed home, and plowed safely into the plate, beating the tag by inches.
Menaul scored a pair of runs in the third inning to trim Estancia’s lead to 7-4.
The Panthers had a runner in scoring position in the fourth, but Adrian “A.Z.” Lucero and Montoya turned a double play to squelch the threat. With one out and the Menaul runner on second base, Lucero reached up and caught a line drive for the second out, then flipped the ball over to Montoya who got the runner out at second.
“I just knew the situation and threw it to second and it played itself out,” Lucero said.
“The kid went too far out, so I was yelling at A.Z. to give me the ball cuz I knew we had him,” Montoya said. “That was a perfect play, it helped us out a lot.”
In the bottom of the fourth, the Bears pushed their lead to 9-4 when Gianni Warren’s base hit drove in Lucero and Abelino Ortiz.
Menaul added a run in the top of the fifth to make it 9-5. Lucero drove in Bernal in the bottom of the frame to go up 10-5.
Menaul cut the margin to 10-6 in the top of the sixth.
Moran struck out the first Menaul batter he faced in the seventh but issued a walk to the next batter. Moran then gave up a double. On the play, an errant throw by an Estancia fielder allowed another Menaul run to come in.
Moran then got the final Panther he faced to pop out to third.
“I felt a little exhausted towards the end of the game,” Moran said. “We needed this win. It was a must-win and we pulled it out.”
“He pitched a heck of a game, he really did,” Archibeque said about Moran, adding that Moreno “showed a lot of grit” and “stepped it up” to get the final out.
Estancia came into the game on a three-game losing streak and a 9-9 overall record. The win lifted the Bears to 10-9, 1-1 in district.
“This was a big win for ‘em,” Archibeque said. “We should be sitting pretty decent in the middle of the bracket for the [state tournament] seeding.”
Estancia wraps up the regular season at Rehoboth Christian on April 30. The seeding for the state tournament will be released on May 1.