St. Pius players react to fans after their 4A baseball championship triumph on Saturday. (Chancey Bush/ )
St. Pius’ Nolan Esterly pitches during the Sartans’ win over Albuquerque Academy in the 4A final. (Chancey Bush/ )
Albuquerque Academy junior Michelangelo Duva (14) pitches during his team’s 4A finals loss to St. Pius at Santa Ana Star Field. (Chancey Bush/ )
In front of a scoreboard that tells the story, St. Pius players celebrate their win over rival Albuquerque Academy Saturday night in the Class 4A championship baseball game at Santa Ana Star Field. (Chancey Bush/ )
It took 11 months, but St. Pius got its redemption.
And by the looks on the players’ faces, it was worth the wait.
The Sartans posted a series of crooked numbers on Saturday night at Santa Ana Star Field, and when the dust had settled on the final game of the 2021-22 high school sports calendar in New Mexico, St. Pius was hoisting the Class 4A state baseball championship trophy after a 15-2, five-inning wallop of No. 1 Albuquerque Academy.
It was last June that the Sartans watched the Chargers score four runs in the bottom of the seventh to win last year’s 4A title on this same field.
And it was obvious that only one tonic was going to ease that pain.
“This year,” said St. Pius junior first baseman Gene Trujillo, “we really wanted to stick it in their hearts.”
No. 2 seed St. Pius (23-4) scored two runs in the first, two in the third, two more in the fourth and then put up a nine spot in the fifth to end whatever suspense there was, and there wasn’t much of it by then.
Perhaps fittingly, the fireworks after the Isotopes’ game across the way were exploding just as St. Pius was finishing off Academy, metaphorically, the image could not have been more apropos.
“We talked a lot about our goals throughout the year,” St. Pius coach Matt McCoy said. “I talked to you today. I said, ‘We have one goal left.’ We got here on the 14th, we wanted May 14th, and the last box to check what to go win this game.”
He quickly added, “(Last year) has been burning a hole in my mind for (11) months.”
The Chargers (26-5) were thoroughly outplayed, and they also were sloppy. Academy had more errors (five) than hits (four) and wasn’t sharp from the start.
St. Pius touched up Academy starter Caleb Lasher right out of the gate, and it was his opposite number, senior Nolan Esterly, that got started scoring with a two-RBI single to center.
In the third, Esterly drove in another run with a double to right-center, and he scored on Jacob Sena’s single just moments later. It was 4-0.
That was plenty for Esterly (2-1), a right-hander who gave up four hits in five innings and two unearned runs in the fourth to make it 6-2 and create some momentary drama.
But whatever modest momentum the Chargers claimed was promptly forgotten in St. Pius’ next at-bat.
The Sartans sent 13 batters to the plate in the fifth, tallying nine runs and turning a game most everyone expected to be close into an unexpected runaway.
Cohen Mulville had a two-run double in that fifth. Malachi Pena had a two-run single. Esterly later added an RBI triple.
“It was a tough loss last year,” said Mulville, who drove in three runs total. “That was our motivation throughout the fall and winter. It was nice to get a little revenge.”
The bulk of this St. Pius roster is returning next season. Esterly, in fact, was the only senior starter on the field for the Sartans; another senior, shortstop Jordan Rodriguez, the regular starting shortstop, was injured Monday in practice and again Friday in the semifinals against Los Alamos. He broke his wrist and was in a sling Saturday night.
Esterly, who was playing third base last June when Academy walked it off 8-7, said that night was heavy on his mind, and his teammates.
“I kept replaying that in my head all throughout the day,” he said. “And I told myself that it wasn’t happening again.”
ST. PIUS 15, ALBUQUERQUE ACADEMY 2 (5)
St. Pius 202 29 — 15 13 3
Academy 000 20 — 2 4 5
Batteries: SP, Nolan Esterly and JoFrank Ortiz. AA, Caleb Lasher, Michelangelo Duva (5), Matthew Delaney (5) and Satish Raichur. Leading hitters: SP, Esterly 3-3, 3B, 2B, 4RBIs; Nick Rodriguez 3-4, 2B, RBI; Miguel Sena 2-4, RBI. AA, Ethan Krebs 2-2, 2B. Records: SP 23-4; AA 26-5.
2022 NMAA Baseball Championships 4A