By Kevin Wilson
Chris Rolston showed why the Dora Coyotes have counted on him so many times, and catcher Bryce Hays topped all of his defensive gems with a weak grounder to third.
Hays’ one-out grounder in the bottom of the seventh scored Tyler Wilhoit to finish off a two-run inning and a 9-8 comeback victory over Tularosa in a Region B Class 1A/2A semifinal at Ram Field in Portales.
The Coyotes will play at 4 p.m. today against Lordsburg, which defeated Santa Rosa 10-6 in Wednesday’s opener. Both teams qualified for the state baseball tournament, but today’s game will be used for seeding purposes.
Dora (11-6) trailed 8-3 early in the contest with the 2A Wildcats (11-13), but Rolston fought off a cold and a slow start to pitch five scoreless innings and allow the Coyotes to make a comeback attempt.
Coyote coach Ty Thatcher said he didn’t consider replacing Rolston after the first two innings — partially because reliever Brent Hays is the same type of pitcher as Rolston, and partially because of faith in the senior left-hander.
“He’s such a competitor,” Thatcher said of Rolston, who escaped several jams thanks to defensive plays from Hays and the rest of the Coyote infield. “He wasn’t feeling good. I just had to let him relax.
“I’ve always been able to count on him when I needed him, and he came up when we needed him (tonight).”
Rolston allowed eight runs — seven earned — in a complete-game victory, scattering 13 hits. Three times, Bryce Hays was the final line of defense at home plate, and three times he tagged out a sliding Tularosa runner to keep the Wildcat score stuck on eight.
Hays’ final play, however, was the one that sent Dora to next week’s state tournament. Dora entered the seventh trailing 8-7 with their 7-8-9 hitters due up.
Senior Michael Sebring hit a one-out single to center, then Wilhoit reached on a throwing error by Tularosa freshman pitcher Louis Vierra.
Following an intentional walk to Clayton Stokes, Brent Hays tied the game by drawing another walk off of Vierra. With a shifted infield, Bryce Hays knew he didn’t need a big hit to keep Dora’s season going.
“The first fastball, I was trying to hit it (to) the outfielders and get a sacrifice fly,” Hays said, “then he gave me a curveball and I couldn’t hit it.
“He gave me another curveball and I choked up and tried to put it in play. It worked.”
Hays hit a dribbler to shortstop Jude Otero, who tried to start a double play to send the game to extra innings. But second baseman Shane Smolik never got time to make the throw to first, and Wilhoit scored the winning run.
“They have a good group that finds a way to win,” Tularosa coach Eric Gutierrez said of Dora, “and they stepped up in the seventh and beat us.”
Dora was also aided by a pair of doubles plays. The third inning ended when Aaron Marojo popped up to shallow left, then Coyote second baseman Philip Danbom made a relay throw to Bryce Hays to nail Julian Bigas, who tagged up on the play. A 1-2-3 double play got Rolston out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning.