By Karl Terry, PNT Managing Editor
DEMING — The Roosevelt County All-Stars forced a second championship game in the 10-11 state Little League all-star tournament Thursday night, rallying for five runs in the top of the sixth to post a 10-7 win over Albuquerque Eastdale.
Roosevelt County had to battle back from a three-run deficit early and Eastdale remained persistent, leading twice again down the stretch.
“These kids just played with so much heart,” Roosevelt coach Sammy Villanueva said.
The teams clash again in a 5 p.m. game today, with the winner claiming the state title in the double-elimination tournament.
Down 6-5 and coming to their last at-bat, Roosevelt went to work at the plate.
Anthony Villanueva drilled a single down the third base line and Matt Martinez followed with a hit of his own. Luis Palladres then drew a walk to load the bases.
Josh Jimenez walked to force in a run before Payton Casey delivered a bases-clearing triple for a 9-6 lead. Casey then scored on a single by Darren Bonem.
“It feels good having the team I have,” Jimenez said. “Our team has a lot of heart and we’re hitting the ball well.”
Eastdale didn’t give up easily, though, loading the bases up and got one run, then had the tying run at the plate as one of their best hitters came up.
“Eastdale, they’ve won it year in and year out,” Villanueva said. “We’ve finally put a little kink in their armour today.”
After Eastdale went up 3-0 in the first, Roosevelt got untracked in the third as Jay Faust came up with a base hit to score Jimenez. Two more runs scored before Eastdale could halt the rally.
Eastdale regained the lead with a run in the bottom of the inning. Jimenez delivered a two-run triple to put Roosevelt County ahead 5-4 in the fifth, but Eastdale answered back with two in the bottom half.
Alex Villanueva pitched five innings for Roosevelt County, while Adam Hernandez worked the sixth.
“Alex has been our ace on the mound all through the tournament,” coach Villaneuva said of his son. “He’s 3-0 up here now and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Alex Villanueva said he was excited about the win and finally agreed he’d done a good job on the mound.
“I did pretty good, I guess,” he said. “I had good defensive backup. We stuck the ball on defense today. We’ve never let ourselves get down.”
With Roosevelt’s two top pitchers now done on the pitch count rule, coach Villanueva knows his team will have to scramble a little on the mound today. But he’s confident about his team’s chances.
“They’re hitting the ball so well, we’ve got a great chance,” he said. “When they dedicated this game to (injured teammate) Daniel (Sanchez), they’ve been playing with a lot of heart.”
Coach Villanueva said he can only remember one other team from Roosevelt County going this far at state — the same group of players that went to the state championship game this spring for the Rams.
“This is just great for baseball in Portales,” he said.