The outcome of Estancia’s May 4 opening round of the Class 2A state playoffs wasn’t what the Bears or their fans wanted to see.
With a rash of clutch hitting, the visiting No. 11 Loving Falcons produced 11 runs. The No. 6 Bears came up on the short end with only 6 runs.
And when Abelino “A.B.” Ortiz was called out on a close play at the plate to end the game, Estancia’s season was over.
The Bears fell behind early, battled back, fell behind again and then came within striking distance.
But in the bottom of the seventh inning, with the bases loaded and two outs, Eladio Bernal hit a grounder to the left side of the infield, Ortiz charged home and slid into the plate in a cloud of dust. Loving’s catcher held up the ball, the umpire gave the out sign, and that was it.
“We had the bases loaded and just couldn’t do it, couldn’t capitalize,” Estancia head coach Randy Archibeque said.
Loving took an early 2-0 lead with a pair of runs in the top of the first inning.
Estancia tied the score 2-2 in the third. Loving couldn’t handle a Bernal grounder that allowed Nathaniel Montoya to score. Adrian “A.Z.” Lucero then beat out an infield hit to drive in Bernal.
The big blow to the Bears came in the top of the fifth when Loving churned out eight runs to go up 10-2. Two runs were the result of Estancia errors. The rest came from a slew of pesky bloop hits that fell in vacant areas of the outfield.
“Those small hits like that, you know, there’s nothing we can do,” Archibeque said. “I think three or four just popped to center and right field, right there.”
Estancia responded in the bottom of the fifth with four runs to cut the margin to 10-6.
Eri Candelas, who pitched five innings, hit a double down the left-field line to drive in Montoya. Lucero reached on a fielder’s choice to bring in Bernal.
With two outs, Quintin Cantu struck out and could’ve ended the inning, but Loving’s catcher dropped the ball. Cantu took off on the dropped third strike and the catcher’s throw sailed high over Loving’s first baseman. Lucero scored on the play and Cantu ended up at third base.
“He dropped it before the umpire even called ‘strike,’ and I just started running to first,” Cantu said. “Then I seen the ball go over and I just kept running like I could, I seen my third base coach’s arm going and I just kept going.”
Cantu scored when Roman Moran hit a sky-high popup that fell between a trio of Loving infielders.
Loving added a run in the sixth with another bloop single to shallow center field.
“We kept battling and it just didn’t work out, but you know, that’s it,” said Lucero, one of six seniors on the team.
Archibeque echoed his senior’s sentiments that the Bears never quit.
“You know, the boys battled all year, all heart,” Archibeque said. “Overall, we had our ups and downs, we got to the tournament, we didn’t get far but we got there, so I think we’ll build on it and we’re gonna be all right.”