Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hobbs baseball's sweep of Carlsbad changes outlook on Eagles' season

Clayton Jones/Hobbs News-Sun
Hobbs' Ricky Aranda scores the winning run against Carlsbad in game one
of a doubleheader on Saturday at Sportsman Field in Hobbs.
  The split second after Hobbs pitcher David Thomas froze Carlsbad’s Broc Landreth with strike three to complete the doubleheader sweep of the Cavemen under the sizzling Saturday sun at Sportsman Field, the Eagles had the look of a completely different ballclub than the one that arrived just hours earlier.
  Any doubts Hobbs had about its ability to not just compete, but defeat a top-tier team in the state lifted by handing district-rival Carlsbad a pair of losses – a Caveman team that entered Saturday’s contest 17-3 on the season and was considered a top-three team in the Land of Enchantment.
  Sure, the wins are important because it ties Hobbs with the Cavemen for first in District in 4-5A at 3-3 with each having a pair of games left at home against 2-2 Clovis (Hobbs hosts Clovis on Tuesday, Carlsbad plays Clovis on Saturday). Carlsbad owns the tiebreaker with Hobbs, however, via run differential as the Cavemen have outscored the Eagles by two runs in splitting their four district contests.
  In short, the Eagles need to sweep Clovis and have Carlsbad drop one to the Wildcats in order for Hobbs to bring home its second consecutive district championship.
  But the significance of Hobbs’ sweep of Carlsbad holds more meaning than tying the Cavemen in the standings.
  The Eagles’ performance was a glimpse of what many expected all season and showed Hobbs may be rounding into form.
  With a pitching staff few can match talent wise with Thomas, Caleb Young, Victor Porras and Brayden Price along with a good lineup that has a solid combination of power and speed – many saw the Eagles as contender in Class 5A prior to the season.
  Yet entering Saturday, the Eagles were 11-11 – far from the record and resume of a contender.
  Close losses have burned Hobbs all season. Seven of its 11 defeats are by three runs or less with mental or physical errors on the Eagles’ part leading to most of them.
  Hobbs turned the corner Saturday – and just in time to save the Eagles’ season.
  Great pitching, clutch hitting and solid defense all came together. Whether it was Thomas’ three-hit shutout in game two, Young’s go-ahead home run in the sixth inning of game one, pinch-hitter Edgar Espinoza getting the ball in play to score the winning run in game one, shortstop Josh Young’s stretched out catch of a line drive to save a run in the sixth inning of game two with Hobbs up by just a run or many other plays – Hobbs competed and played like a top-five team in the state Saturday.
  The Eagles’ season was on life support prior to Saturday. At best Hobbs was going to be one of the last teams to make the 16-team Class 5A tournament.
  Following the sweep of Carlsbad, the Eagles have given themselves a chance to win district, and while they may not get a home series in the first round, should solidify Hobbs’ spot into the state tournament.
  And that’s all the Eagles need – a chance.
  When the NMAA releases the state tournament brackets April 29, nobody is going to be pleased to be playing Hobbs. With these two wins, the Eagles proved they’re better than their record indicates.
  Hobbs can’t afford to regress Tuesday against Clovis, however. Momentum has been built. A pair of wins against the Wildcats sends the Eagles into the state playoffs, whether they win district or not, on a seven-game winning streak and as arguably one of the more dangerous teams in the tournament.
  Funny how two games can change the outlook of a season.

This column appeared in Sunday's sports section of the Hobbs News-Sun. To read more coverage of your favorite Lea County teams, subscribe to the News-Sun's print or online edition by calling 575-393-2123.