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Bulldog baseball sweeps district-opening double dip; junior Natera slaps four HRs

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First-year head coach JJ Ortiz turned to another sport for inspiration when ushering in the second season.

As District 4-AAAAA play began Tuesday, Ortiz told his Bulldogs to think of the impending 12-game gamut as a boxing match.

“Boxers, they get ready in the locker room, then they walk through the crowd, and once they step into that ring, it’s game time – it’s on,” Ortiz said today. “And we told the guys, that’s how our approach needs to be. Once we step off the bus and onto the field, it’s like being in the ring.

“Another thing boxers do real well is focus on each round, and that’s how we’re approaching each of these district games. We have 12 rounds, and you can’t start thinking about the last one before you’ve played the first one. We’re going to take district inning by inning, pitch by pitch, and if we can concentrate like that and win all 12 rounds, we’ll set ourselves up for a really good seed in the state tournament.”

If Ortiz was hoping to extend the boxing metaphor to pounding on things, his Diamond ‘Dogs obliged him there, as well, Tuesday in Lovington, racking up 30 hits and 33 runs over the course of the double header.

Four of Artesia’s 18 hits in Game One came courtesy of cleanup hitter Aaron Natera – and all four landed over the fence.

The junior blasted a quartet of homers off of three of the four different pitchers the Wildcats sent to the mound in the game, delivering 10 RBI in the process. That’s a school record, as far as anyone can recall, and ties the state mark for most home runs in a single game.

“We were really excited to see Aaron hit those,” Ortiz said. “We kind of talked before the game about limiting our strikeouts and that if we just put the ball in play, good things were going to happen, and he did a really great job.

“All of the guys did, really. For any team to have that many hits and for a guy to hit four home runs, it doesn’t matter what field you’re on or who you’re playing, that’s special.”

The Artesia boys jumped on Lovington early in Game One Tuesday, batting around in the top of the first and compiling seven runs on a Robert Fernandez RBI triple, RBI doubles by Taylor Null and Miguel Martinez, and Natera’s first tater of the day, a three-run shot over the left-field fence.

The Wildcats got on the board in the home half on a RBI fielder’s choice, and the ‘Dogs would make it 10-1 over their next two at-bats, with Fernandez posting a RBI single in the second and Natera sending a two-run home back to left in the third.

Lovington secured enough runs to momentarily stave off the impending run-rule in their third and fourth trips to the plate on a bases-loaded hit batsman and a RBI double, single and ground out in the fourth as Bulldog starting pitcher Favian Carrasco gave way to sophomore AJ Ferguson.

But Natera took Artesia two runs away from the necessary margin of 10 in the fifth with a longball off the scoreboard, then helped them end the game in the sixth with a two-run blast that – combined with a Collin Turner RBI double, Cooper Flores base hit, and an error – rounded out the final, 19-5.

Natera finished 4-5 with the 10 RBI in the contest, as did Null with a pair of doubles and one run batted in. Carrasco took the win on the hill with four hits, two earned runs, and five strikeouts through three complete, and following two innings from Ferguson, Null took the mound to close in the sixth, striking out the side.

The Bulldogs again took an early lead in the nightcap, taking three runs out of the top of the first on a Natera RBI double-turned-error and a Fernandez single. Artesia made it 7-0 in the top of three on another RBI base hit from Fernandez, a Martinez sac-fly, and a two-RBI double to the left-center-field fence by leadoff Trent Taylor.

The Wildcats picked up a pair in the bottom of the inning on bases-loaded hit batsmen and walks, but Artesia would continue racking up runs, scoring once in the fourth and twice in the fifth on a Null single to right to set the score at 10-2.

Two more ‘Cats crossed in the bottom of five on a base hit and a walk, but Artesia was able to secure the run rule in the top of the sixth on a three-run bomb by JR Bustamante and a balk.

Following two-and-one-third innings by starter Turner, who gave way to relievers Ferguson and Garrett Thomas, Natera closed out the 14-4, six-inning contest on the mound with two hits, no runs, and three Ks through one-and-two-thirds.

Taylor was 3-5 with a double and two RBI on the game, while Null went 2-3 with two runs batted in.

“We’re really happy with the performances,” Ortiz said. “The guys were having fun, they were cheering for each other… they have each other’s backs. We had a team dinner on Wednesday, and we’re doing everything possible to get them to hang out with each other, and it’s working. We’re coming together as a team.

“We had good pitching last night, good defense, and all around, we just played well. We’re a little better than Lovington is right now, but like we told the guys, if you’re a little better than your opponent, you’ve got to stay focused and worry about what you need to do to get better so that we’re playing for that state championship at the end of the year.”

The Bulldogs (9-7, 2-0) will now prepare to host their first district games of the year at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. Friday against Goddard at Brainard Park.

The Rockets are currently 12-2, 2-0 on the season, having swept Roswell High in their D4 opener Tuesday, 13-2 and 10-0. The ‘Dogs came up just short of the boys in blue March 24 in the Sal Puentes Memorial consolation final in Rio Rancho, 3-2, and will be looking to challenge Goddard for first place in the district.

“Goddard is going to come to play,” said Ortiz. “Both teams are going to bring their best. Goddard has a solid team; they do a lot of good things on the field, they can put the ball in play, they’ve got good pitching, good defense. But I think we’re really evenly matched, so it should be a good one.

“We’re approaching the second half of our season as a new season. We came in 7-7, so it was like starting over, and that’s what we want to do. We want to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them.”

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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