Pojoaque Valley baseball coach Chris Kitchens had a bad feeling about what might happen following his team’s March 12 game against Capital. He had seen the fears about the spread of COVID-19, and the cancellations happening throughout the country.
“Play this game like it’s the last game of the season,” the first-year coach told his team. And they did.
The game had a weird atmosphere. Though some fans were in attendance, there was plenty of concern about contagion. Baseballs were switched out as often as possible to avoid the possible spread of germs, and following the game the players fist bumped.
Capital scored first in the top of the fourth inning, but the Elks quickly answered. They remained tied until the sixth inning. In the bottom of the sixth, Zach Fresquez reached base, and Andres Soveranez knocked him in with a double to take the lead. Pojoaque scored four runs in the inning and won 5-1.
What the team didn’t tell sophomore pitcher Joel Gonzales was that the run allowed was scored by two walks and an error.
“We let him do his job and work,” Kitchens said. Not until after the game did anyone tell Gonzales that he finished a no-hitter.
But everything took a turn immediately following the game, as Kitchens feared. Kitchens saw the message that all schools were closed. He also saw that the school gyms were closed, and quickly figured out what that probably meant.
Players with parents who worked for the school also learned what was likely happening. The next day came the official announcement that all games and practices were suspended. The Elks had a home doubleheader against Shiprock scheduled for Saturday.
Kitchens hopes that his team can return this season and at least play their district, but is far from certain. He said the players are disappointed, but know that safety comes first. Though they’ll be doing whatever they can to stay in shape in the meantime.
“They’re just starting to get going,” Kitchens said of his team. “Pitchers were starting to come around.”
The Elks also had a thrilling win two weeks ago against Santa Fe Indian School. The Elks trailed by five in the top of the seventh, then rallied for seven more runs for a 21-19 win.
But if the season doesn’t return, a very real possibility, the Elks will know they finished strong despite their 2-5 record.
“No better way to end the season,” Kitchens said.