By Kevin Wilson
If the Portales High softball team needed more motivation than a state championship, all its members would need to think of are two numbers — 18 and 0.
The former is the score of Grants in last year’s regional championship against Portales, the latter Portales’ score in that same game.
The teams meet again on for a noon Friday semifinal in Las Cruces to open the state softball tournament, each team three wins away from a state championship.
The District 4-3A champion Lady Rams (16-8) will be seeking a state championship in their first state appearance since debuting in 2001. District runnerup Lovington is on the other side of the eight-team bracket and faces Cobre in a 4 p.m. game.
This year, Portales coach Robbie Crowley feels the team has a strong advantage with this year’s tournament format. The championship opponents will have play three games in two days — two on Friday, followed by Saturday’s state title game — and Crowley has a pair of pitching options with Sasha Parker and Shareesa Nusser.
Crowley said that Parker is slated to start against Grants, but hasn’t decided who will throw should Portales win Friday’s opener and/or the 6 p.m. semifinal.
“We do have an advantage as far as pitching goes, because we have two who can throw,” Crowley said. “Sasha has a few more pitches, but Shareesa’s more consistent.”
Though many of the players who participated in the Grants-Portales last year have graduated, the ones who were around for the game won’t soon forget it.
Shortstop Sabrina Villanueva remembers the Lady Pirates hitting the ball to “every possible gap” as they jumped out to an 11-0 first inning lead.
“It was kind of scary,” first baseman Ashleah Richards said. “They got three up, three down every inning (on defense).”
Richards, a junior in her second year as a starter, knows last year’s game against Grants is on her mind and her teammates’ minds, but doesn’t think they have any type of mental block.
“That was last year,” Richards said. “Our pitching has come around and our sticks are a lot better than last year. We have to focus and we have to play every inning and we can’t have bad inning.”