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A wow finish

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By Dave Kavanaugh

“Everybody’s beatable.”

That’s what West Las Vegas head softball coach Lucas Griego’s mantra was going into the postseason.

The second-year skipper wanted his troops to fear no one and simply play their game.

They didn’t do too bad.

Despite being saddled with the 14th seed in a 16-team Class 3A state tournament, the Lady Dons made it all the way to the semifinals and had better than a fighting chance to make the championship game.

“I’m pretty proud of them,” Griego said. “We really surprised some teams.”

The first of those teams was No. 3 Portales, one of the favorites to contend for a state title. The Ram girls had already swept WLV 2-1 and 15-1 back on April 3.

But that was before Lady Dons pitching coach Dominique Montoya worked her magic with the staff. In the first Portales-WLV meeting, Griego said, the Lady Dons gave up 13 walks.

On Friday, they allowed one.

And while the defense held Portales in check, the offense began what would be a big weekend in Las Cruces.

“A lot had to do with our pitching,” Griego said. “It was finally where we wanted it. Our pitching coach did a heck of a job getting our pitchers ready.”

West got off to a sizable early lead and held on to win 11-4.

In that opener, the Lady Dons committed no defensive errors.

“The girls told me the night before we’re going to beat them,” the coach recalled. “And they did.”

That earned the team a Friday evening game with No. 6 Miyamura, who’d taken out St. Michael’s by an 8-4 count earlier in the day.

It was a close contest, but the Lady Dons mustered enough offense to edge their foes 7-5.

The buzz was growing by that point.

“Fans found out we were the 14th seed and they went over to our game and started cheering for us,” Griego marveled.

Among the newfound fans were members of a usual West Las Vegas rival — the Raton Lady Tigers.

Raton, as it turned out, would be the next opponent. The No. 2 seed Lady Tigers had blown out Wingate 16-0 and defeated Hatch Valley 6-2 on Friday to reach the semifinals.

Raton had beaten West three out of three games in the regular season, although each game was competitive. On April 10, the scores were 12-9 and 12-10. Later in the month, Raton had won 9-4.

Saturday’s meeting would be more of the same. West actually led early in the game and kept it close throughout  after the Tigers took control. It was a two-run margin until Raton tacked on an insurance run for an 8-5 decision.

Raton would go on to push top seed Bloomfield to extra innings before falling 7-3 in the title game.

Over the course of the tournament, West sophomore Larrissa Gallegos hit 9 of 12, and she whacked two home runs — almost three — on Friday. The “almost” was a shot that knocked over a section of fencing, Griego said.

Gabby Griego was a combined 7 of 13 and Selena Contreras 6 for 11. Other Lady Dons’ batting stats: Kris Padilla, 4 for 13; Angelica Salazar, 5 for 13; Mariquita Zamora, 4 for 12; Amanda Garcia, 5 for 12; Bryanna Salas, 2 for 5; Marissa Cordova, 4 for 8; Shannon Sandoval, 1 for 1; Francine Solano, 1 for 4; and Jessica Sandoval, 0 for 1. The team combined for five or six home runs in the tourney.

“Our kids are spending a lot of time in the batting cage,” Griego said. “Each of them is hitting at least 120 times a day.”

The strong finish has fueled enthusiasm for next season.

Four seniors — Padilla, Salas, Salazar and Amber Lucero — will be lost to graduation. Padilla, who transferred this year from Robertson, is the team’s starting catcher, and Salazar has been a lynchpin on both offense and defense (as an outfielder) for years.

“She’s little but plays like a big person,” Griego said of Salazar. “I don’t know if you can replace a player like that.”

The coach also praised Padilla. “Catchers don’t have it easy. She played really tough, and she played three tough games (at state).”

Lucero, a steady starting pitcher, and Salas, a solid outfielder, will also be missed.

But with everyone else expected back for a new-look District 2-3A (plus Taos, minus Pojoaque, Santa Fe Indian and St. Mike’s), WLV fans may be looking forward to big things in 2011.

Not that it will be easy. Raton remains the team to beat, and Robertson has a lot of upside as a young but improving outfit.

Griego said assistant coaches Etta Bustos and Dominique Montoya will help ensure the program’s continued success. “With the help I get, it’s easy for me,” he said. “I’ve got great kids and good coaches. My job is easy.”