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Ignacio baseball team’s pitching depth tested in home opener

Bobcats lose to Aztec on Friday afternoon
Ignacio senior Rylan Maez pitches during the Bobcats' 2024 home opener Friday afternoon at IHS Field versus Aztec. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

Based upon sheer game experience alone, the Ignacio Bobcats had no business being on the same field as visiting Aztec on Friday afternoon.

The Bobcats played just their second game of the 2024 season, while the Tigers were already playing their 16th.

However, CHSAA pitch-count rules hamstrung new Bobcats coach Isiah Valdez and made things a lot easier for Tigers coach Eli Wyatt.

Aztec cruised to a 14-5 victory, improving to 10-6 overall. Ignacio dropped to 0-2 overall.

Needing to save as many pitchers as possible for the next day’s nonleague doubleheader versus 2A Del Norte, Valdez had to pull senior starter Phillip Quintana, who allowed two hits and a walk, after two innings and the score tied 0-0.

Aztec managed to then touch reliever Stoney White Thunder, who allowed two hits and three walks for two runs in the top of the third, but Ignacio nearly answered in the home half – stranding runners at second and third when first Tiger reliever Xavier Newton struck out cleanup man Rylan Maez.

Knowing both Quintana and White Thunder would see extensive mound duty against in-state Del Norte, Valdez elected to put starting shortstop Devante Montoya, who threw 2/3 of an inning, up on the bump for the guests’ fourth, and Aztec broke through with five runs.

Three of those runs came via RBI-singles by catcher Kaleb Thornburg, shortstop Kale Watson and center fielder Justin Bixler.

New arm Maez, however, cut the onslaught short by getting left fielder Tyler Ray, batting for the second time in the inning, to bounce out to alternate second baseman William Mendoza-Lechuga.

Newton, who threw 1 2/3 innings, struck out four batters and allowed three runs, then preserved Aztec’s 7-0 advantage by stranding runners at second and third in the top of the fifth. Bixler, who batted 3 for 3 with four RBIs, increased it to 8-0 in the top of the fifth with a single to center plating Newton, who hit 1 for 3 and scored three runs.

Taking advantage of a stiff breeze blowing out to right, the Bobcats at last got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the inning.

At the top of Valdez’s order, Montoya, who batted 1 for 3, ripped a ball over the Tigers’ fielder and raced all the way to third base. White Thunder then grounded to Watson, but Watson elected – unsuccessfully – to try throwing Montoya out at home plate rather than take the sure out at first. White Thunder then reached second when Quintana, who batted 4 for 4 with a triple, cranked a long fly to right, again misjudged by the fielder and over his head.

Facing new Aztec pitcher Tyler Ray, who threw two innings, Rylan Maez was then retired unassisted at first, but both runners ahead of him moved up a base and White Thunder scored on a Watson error off Wade Dunbar’s bat. Gabe Archuleta then bounced out to first baseman Kaleb Hales, but Quintana sprinted home and cut the Tigers’ lead down to 8-3.

Marcus Maez, who went 1 for 2, then forced a single past Watson and into left, driving in Dunbar, but was then thrown out trying to steal second.

Sensing danger however, Aztec tagged Ignacio’s Rylan Maez in the top of the sixth for five clinching runs. The last two came via junior Caleb Wilkins’ two-out pinch-hit double, following a bases-loaded walk to Bixler, to left-center. Aztec led 13-5 after the sixth inning.

Maez allowed six runs and five walks over 2 1/3 inning, striking out one batter.

Thornburg, who hit 3 for 6 with three RBIs, later knocked in Aztec’s 14th run with a seventh-inning single off Marcus Maez, scoring Ray.

Bixler then became the ninth pitcher used in the contest as he worked a 1-2-3 inning and fanned two in finalizing a 14-5 road victory.

After hosting Del Norte, in which results were unavailable at press time, Ignacio will resume action on April 8 at Kirtland Central.

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