ALBUQUERQUE — As hard as it may seem at times to shut out an opponent for a softball team, the No. 1-seeded Cleveland High School squad did that three times in a row to capture the Class 5A title — their first — on June 26 at Lobo Field.
The Storm’s 3-0 victory over third-seeded Carlsbad (18-3) — which lost the last 5A championship game played two years ago to the Storm’s rival on the south side of Northern Boulevard, Rio Rancho — completed the postseason trifecta.
All told, the Storm racked up nine shutouts for the season, garnering the top seed when the bracket was released.
The road to the title began with a 1-0 victory in a perfect game thrown at visiting La Cueva by Aalijah Alarcon in a quarterfinal game played June 22 and another 1-0 win, thanks to an Oñate throwing error in the bottom of the sixth on June 24; both of those games were played at the Shock Yards.
Storm 3, Carlsbad 0: The No. 1 Storm (21-2) scored the only run they’d need in the bottom of the second, when catcher A.J. Naranjo drew a one-out walk, and freshman Lillian Paboucek became her courtesy runner.
Center fielder Olivia Inclan laid down a nifty bunt, too late for the Cavegirls’ catcher to get Paboucek at second and unable to nab Inclan at first. Third baseman Tavia Fragua then singled to center field, scoring Paboucek.
Shortstop Ashley Archuleta — not done playing at Lobo Field, because she’s committed to UNM — led off the third with a double and went to third on an outfield error. One out later, second baseman Ryen Herman hit a grounder to first, but the throw to the plate was too late to get Archuleta and Herman was safe at first, with an RBI for the insurance run.
The Storm added a single and a walk before the third out, with Cavegirls starting pitcher Faith Aragon relieved by Haiven Schoolcraft, who induced Inclan to ground out and end the rally.
Cleveland made it 3-0 in the fourth.
Fragua singled but was retired on a close play at second on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Avianna Fierro. Left fielder Mercedes Lovato’s sacrifice pushed Fierro to second, and she plated on an RBI-single by Archuleta.
Archuleta then stole second and went to third on a throwing error, but was stranded there when right fielder Analicia Martinez wasn’t able to beat out a bunt.
The Storm were retired in order by Schoolcraft in the fifth and sixth.
Meanwhile, Alarcon didn’t allow a Cavegirl beyond second base through the first four frames, scattering three singles and relying on her defense to turn ground balls into outs.
Two singles in the fifth resulted in a dead-on relay from the outfield to catcher Naranjo, wiping out one scoring threat.
A single and a throwing error by Alarcon put a Cavegirl at second with one down in the sixth, but the next batter grounded out to Archuleta.
The Cavegirls’ final gasp came with one out in the seventh. A single, followed by a batter reaching on an error by Herman at second gave them two base runners — and sent Storm coach Angel Castillo to the circle to chat with Alarcon.
Two infield groundouts later, the Storm were the state champs.
Archuleta — with two hits, an RBI and a run scored — began her prep career by spending her eighth- and ninth-grade seasons at Rio Rancho High School, where she was a third baseman. But what was it like, facing a rare lefty, for all the marbles?
No problem at all.
“Our coaches are great at preparing us before the games,” she said, which added to, “the atmosphere, getting everyone excited and being in the moment.”
When the Cavegirls threatened late in the game, she said, “It was a little nerve-wracking, but I have all the confidence in my pitcher — and all the confidence in everyone around me that we were going to get it done.”
Confidence was the operative word, it seems.
“They worked really hard and they trust their pitcher, and she trusts the defense,” coach Angel Castillo said. “We know Carlsbad — our girls compete against a lot of them in the summer, so we kinda know what they had.
“The last time we played Carlsbad, they beat us up pretty good, it was like 12-2 or something (16-1, actually) in the 2019 playoffs, so we were hoping to get a little revenge, and Chiple had that in the back of her mind, so it was just awesome to watch.”
“I’m just proud of their commitment to the program,” he said, planning to take some time off. “We hope to reload — we had seven freshmen that were moved up to the varsity, and our JV (lost only one game) … was one of the reasons we won — our JV competed against us and pushed us at practice every day.”
This was the Storm’s second 20-win season; Castillo led them to 24 victories in 2016, their first appearance in the state championship game.
… Paboucek’s sister, Lindsey, was a senior starting outfielder on the Storm’s 2016 team that fell to Oñate in that season’s championship game.
… CHS’s fourth softball coach in history — after the first three lasted but one season apiece — Castillo has a 139-83 win-loss record in his nine seasons at the helm. “It’s a great year,” he said, reminded his son Kymani was a state wrestling champ recently and his wife and daughter, Annette and Rikki, assist him.