The 2018 Lady ‘Dog Invitational was something of an emotional rollercoaster for the Artesia High School softball team and its fans.
The Lady Bulldogs opened their tournament run Friday with a ceremony honoring veterans and first responders for their service and unselfish acts of bravery.
Following a decisive opening win, the Artesia girls were forced to watch Saturday morning as senior pitcher Kali Crandall’s perfect game was broken up with two outs in their opponent’s final at-bat. Saturday afternoon, meanwhile, brought a battle many didn’t see coming against Class 1A-3A Dexter in the championship game.
But when all was said and done, the Lady ‘Dogs stepped forward before a packed house at the Mack Chase Athletic Complex to accept the Lady ‘Dog Invite first-place trophy. Mission accomplished.
“This was definitely a good tournament for us,” head coach Sandra Pulido said following her squad’s 6-5 win over Dexter. “We saw some good competition throughout the weekend, and that’s going to help us moving forward toward district.”
After blanking Cobre 6-0 Friday and defeating Alamogordo 8-1 Saturday morning, Artesia found themselves matched up with the Lady Demons, whose run past Class 5A Goddard (18-3) and Los Lunas (3-1) had earned them a spot in the title tilt and kept their undefeated season (9-0) alive.
They came out fighting against the Lady ‘Dogs, as well, taking two runs out of the top of the first inning on an error and a RBI fielder’s choice.
Kali Crandall evened things out with a single swing in the home half, sending a two-run homer over the left-field fence to make it 2-2, but the Lady Demons tacked on two more in the second on an Aryana Munoz RBI single and another Artesia throwing error.
The Lady Bulldogs got just one of those runs back in the bottom of the inning on Dexter’s first of four errors on the day, but Artesia would regain the lead in the fourth on a two-RBI single up the middle from Chanler Groves.
The girls in orange added what turned out to be a crucial insurance run in the sixth on a Crandall bases-loaded walk, then held the Demons at bay despite a RBI ground out in the seventh for a 6-5 win.
“Most teams know that we come to play, so they bring their A game, too,” Pulido said. “And that’s what you really want. That’s how you’re going to get better is when you play good teams that are going hard, and I thought this was a great championship game.”
Pulido said her athletes were never discouraged in the contest, setting their focus on intensity at the plate when they fell behind.
“We just told them to work back and be aggressive but smart at the plate,” she said. “That’s something that we’ve been working on in practice, and we just weren’t doing it at the beginning of the game. So we told them to get back to the basics.”
Senior Kacey Thurman took the W in the circle with three hits, one earned run, and six strikeouts through seven complete, while the Lady ‘Dogs were led at the plate by Riggs (1-2), followed by Crandall, Groves, Elisa Cardenas, Adrianna Baeza and Melody Payne, who all went 1-3, Crandall with a homer and three RBI and Groves with two runs batted in.
Saturday morning versus Alamo saw Crandall and her defense seat the Lady Tigers in order through sixth complete innings before heartbreak came crashing down in the form of a Tori Borunda solo home run with two away in the top of the seventh.
“When you’ve got a game like that going, I think nerves just get to a point where everybody’s thinking ‘just one more out, just one more pitch,’” said Pulido. “She missed a spot, and it wasn’t like she missed it by a lot. Just enough that Borunda was able to jump on it.
“But that’s something Kali’s been working on. She’s told herself she wants to pitch a perfect game, and by that she didn’t even mean an actual perfect game. She just meant she wanted to have the best pitching game she could produce, and even though she lost that stat, it was still a very, very good game for her.”
The Lady ‘Dog offense, meanwhile, took one run out of the first on an unusual play that saw Presley Skinner run home from third on what the Alamo defense assumed had been a foul ball. Skinner turned around and went back to third after touching the plate, but the umpires ruled the ball had not been touched by the batter, and Skinner was awarded the essential passed-ball score.
A Groves RBI single in the fourth made it 2-0, Kamiley Marquez and Payne logged back-to-back RBI doubles in the fifth, and Artesia rounded out their eight runs in the sixth on a Nikki Reyes two-RBI single, a Payne RBI fielder’s choice, and a base hit to right by Gracie Puentes.
While Thurman and the Lady ‘Dog defense held Cobre scoreless throughout Friday’s opening bout, Artesia overcame a slow offensive start to notch two runs in the third on a Marquez two-RBI double and four more in the sixth when Thurman helped her cause more than pitchers are generally expected to, belting a grand slam to round out the 6-0 final.
She allowed five hits and no runs while striking out two in the contest. Riggs went 2-3 at the plate and Marquez 2-4 with two doubles and two RBI.
While the Lady Bulldogs were sluggish in spots this weekend after a 10-day layoff, Pulido says the experience will be a good one as the team prepares for its final regular-season games.
The Lady Bulldogs (9-2) will host Valencia at noon Saturday at The Mack and Portales in a 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. double header April 10.
“The biggest thing we want to see in those games is execution,” said Pulido. “We also want to be better on the bases, which is somewhere we failed this weekend.
“Our pitchers did a great job. Both Kacey and Kali threw great games this weekend, and we’re excited about where they’re at right now. The fan support was also huge; it’s nice to have that kind of support for the girls’ programs.”