Pojoaque Valley High School senior third basemen Rianna Arellano’s extending catch across her body on a line out to end the top of the third inning wasn’t the biggest play of the day in the Elkettes’ district-clinching win over Los Alamos High School, but it was enough for Pojoaque head coach Christ Ortiz to say he was “chilled all over the place.”
Giving the first-year head coach the reason to feel the goosebumps was the tenacity and aggression his Elkettes brought to the table with everything on the line, and on a warm, clear 10 a.m. start time on May 4, Pojoaque delivered with a crushing 12-2 victory over Los Alamos in the first game of a doubleheader to win the District 2-4A championship at Chris Peterson Memorial Softball Field.
Pojoaque needed just a split on the day to secure the title, and was more than ready for the moment — despite a few first-inning fielding errors — needing just five innings to topple the Lady Hilltoppers behind a four-run first and eight-run second inning after falling behind 1-0 after the top of the first.
“The girls were ready and they’ve been wanting this for a while, you know what I mean,” Ortiz said afterward. “To put it in perspective, they (Los Alamos) got up and we came through. We’ve never really hit in the second inning like we did today, it’s usually in the fifth or sixth, but today we were ready.”
Pojoaque used the 1-2 punch of four spot lefty Ayanna Aguirre and the five hitter in Michaela Martinez to set up and score most of its runs. Aguirre opened up the scoring in the first with an RBI double and Martinez followed suit with her own RBI double an at-bat later, scoring two more runners.
Fast forward an inning later, and after Aguirre was walked, Martinez again cracked the bat, this time sending a line drive to left field to score Ariana Salazar to increase the Elkettes lead to 6-1 at the time. Overall in the inning, Pojoaque totaled five hits and five RBIs, part of their 11 hits and 10 RBIs on the day, while holding Los Alamos to just six hits and one RBI.
“Having Michaela behind me as the fifth batter is great,” Aguirre said. “She’s a heavy hitter as well, so if I can get on base, I know she can bring me around.”
Martinez brought around three runners in all to home plate, while Elysia Gonzales was right behind her with two RBIs. Leading the team in the hits and runs category was freshman Anissa Herrera. It was her lead-off switch-hit slapper in the first inning that gave route to her 4-for-4 performance from the plate, and she benefited more than anyone from Pojoaque’s 11-for-24 performance as a team by scoring four runs.
Herrera was most impressed from how her team bounced back from a 14-10 loss suffered to the Lady Hilltoppers back on April 16 on the road to seal the district championship.
“It was so amazing because last time we met up with them, it wasn’t pretty at all,” she said. “It was a flip-flop situation and we were all hanging our heads and felt horrible. This was an opposite situation, and it’s freakin’ amazing.”
Herrera also expressed gratitude toward her first-year head coach in Ortiz, although she’s been coached by him through middle school and in junior varsity since the sixth grade.
“Having a new head coach, it was sort of like a rebuild season for us,” she said. “I don’t think none of us expected to be district champs and to do it under his watch in his first year as district champs, it’s just amazing.”
Los Alamos cycled through three pitchers during the duration of the five-inning game, as starter Savana Luster lasted just 2/3s of the first inning before being replaced by Isabella Robertson, who went on to allow four hits and seven earned runs in another 2/3s worth of time on the mound.
On the contrary, Pojoaque wouldn’t have been able to muster and protect the lead they built if it weren’t for Rebecca Chavez’s ability to strand Lady Hilltopper baserunners. She totaled five in the first two innings, including getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the second by striking out two consecutive batters to end the frame and leave Los Alamos scratching its heads.
Chavez pitched all five innings, throwing 72 pitches in all while allowing six hits, striking out three and walking two.
“Becca threw a heck of a game and she got out of the jams she needed to,” Ortiz said. “This was all a go from the beginning when I took the job as head coach the first year: I told the girls that we would have goals, and one of those was taking districts, make state again and finish off because who knows what will happen at state.”
While the Elkettes lost game 2 to Los Alamos by a score of 16-10 to end Pojoaque’s season at 14-9, the win in game 1 of the doubleheader helped secure the program’s first state tournament berth since 2014 and the first district title in 13 years.
The Elkettes received the No. 14 seed on May 5 and will be all set to battle Silver High School (21-3, 12-0 in District 3-4A) on the road at 11 a.m., Saturday.
The Fighting Lady Colts ran away with their district and will be riding a 14-game winning streak into the single-elimination, play-in-game against Pojoaque. Silver has an impressive mark in runs against, only allowing opponents to cross home plate 25 times all season, and Ajia Richard will certainly be one of the players the Elkettes’ pitchers will need to be well-aware of. The sophomore is tied atop the state in all classifications with 14 home runs and second in the RBI category with 48.