Losing a couple of key players with college-level skills last offseason should’ve meant at least a small step backward for the West Las Vegas softball program.
But the Lady Dons and their coaches had other ideas.
West won nearly two dozen regular-season games, went 11 of 12 in a sturdy district race, and earned a No. 5 seed in the Class 3A state tournament. Then the Lady Dons surpassed what they’d done the year before, reaching the state championship game after knocking off the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds.
In the end, they fell just shy, going down 10-7 against No. 2 Silver.
“Even coming out second, it’s great for a northern New Mexico team,” said WLV head coach Lucas Griego. “These teams from the south are tough.”
Silver was especially strong. The Lady Colts were the first in the tournament bracket to derail WLV, taking a 13-3 win in the semifinals of the double-elimination affair.
After West defeated No. 4 Hope Christian for the second time in as many days — a 10-7 verdict in the playback bracket final — the Lady Dons set up a rematch with Silver in Saturday’s title game.
The Lady Colts jumped out to a 5-0 lead and looked to put the game away early.
But the West players had one more fight left in them.
“All the young kids came through,” Griego said. “All the old kids came through too. My seniors told the younger ones, ‘Don’t you give up; go down swinging.’”
West overtook Silver for a 7-6 edge in the top of the sixth before the southerners surged back ahead for good with four unanswered runs.
“Even the Silver coach told me afterward that for them not to fold was impressive,” Griego said.
The Lady Dons’ never-say-die attitude helped draw a number of fans to fields in Rio Rancho and Albuquerque. Some made the trek from Las Vegas; others — presumably new converts — came from games on adjacent fields.
“They were coming from the other fields to watch our games,” Griego said. “It got loud.”
West started the tourney by bouncing Santa Fe Indian 10-0 at home, then began its Rio Rancho run by beating Hope 8-2. That set up a meeting with No. 1 Portales.
“The girls were really focused,” Griego recalled. “Muma (pitcher Marissa Cordova) was on, and our sticks were on. We got runs every inning.”
West not only won but won convincingly, a 13-4 stunner that got the team to a semifinal with Silver at UNM Field.
“It was amazing to watch the transformation from last year,” Griego said. He agreed the 2012 team had great talent but this year’s squad was a bit more cohesive and selfless, doing what it had to in order to go deeper into the bracket.
“I’m really proud of them,” he said.