By Mickey Winfield, PNT Staff Writer
Elida head baseball coach Jimmy Ward says he’s not repeating the mistake he made last May that brought the Tigers an early exit from the Class 1A state playoffs — this time, he’s not looking ahead and he’s starting hard throwing junior Wesley Gilmore in Elida’s state quarterfinal game against Questa Wednesday in Los Lunas.
“We didn’t start Wesley last year,” Ward said, “because we had to have Wesley to beat Texico in the second round.”
As it turns out, Gilmore and Elida never faced Texico. Gallup Catholic beat the Tigers in what could be called a power outage on offense.
“We had been scoring 9 to 15 runs a game last year and we scored two,” Ward said. “We just didn’t hit the ball.”
With an undefeated District 6-1A championship this season, the Tigers (12-7, 5-0 district) enter the state tournament as the No. 3 seed, facing the sixth-seeded Wildcats.
“The pitching will have to be good,” Gilmore said. “If the pitching is good, everything else seems to work out. We’ve also got to get our bats going, that’s been a problem lately.”
“(Questa) will be a good team,” Ward said. “They beat Cimarron two out of five times and Cimarron’s a good team too.”
But Ward knows the Tigers must hit the ball to advance to the state semifinals for the second time in three years.
“When we get down to (hitters) three, four, five and six — we’re pretty tough,” Ward said. “We’ve got some good bats right there.”
The Tigers also bring an improved pitching rotation to state.
“Caleb Widener is throwing as hard or harder than he’s ever thrown this year,” Ward said. “He’s throwing hard and hitting his spots and he’s got three pitches, we can win with him. And then Dan Massey came in here and he probably throws as hard as Wesley does, he’s a little wilder — not as seasoned. We’ve got three good pitchers.”
The Tigers’ path to a baseball state championship may include a semifinal game against second-seeded Gallup Catholic while top-seeded Gateway Christian awaits at the top of the bracket.
Elida dropped a doubleheader at Gateway Christian early this spring (2-1 and 7-1), but they’re not intimidated.
“We played with (Gateway Christian) pretty close early in the season,” Gilmore said. “Both of us have gotten better, but we’re going to have to win our first two games first.”
Wednesday’s quarterfinals and Thursday’s semifinals will be played at Los Lunas, while the Class 1A state championship game will be Friday at Isotopes Park in Albuquerque.
“We’ve got some experience. Now we’ve just got to put that experience together and get some wins,” Gilmore said. “We have some confidence. We have the talent to go pretty far if we can just put all the pieces together.”
“I think that we overlooked Gallup Catholic last year a little bit. We’re going to come in and we’ll be ready to play — if not, they’re going to run me out of town,” Ward said. “I think we’ve got as good a chance as we’ll ever have to win it this year.”