Aztec starting pitcher Tyson Curley, a Division I prospect, faced just 11 batters before being relieved with two outs in the bottom of the first inning. Curley walked eight of the hitters he faced while allowing only one hit, but he was charged with nine runs and a loss in the Tigers' 14-0 defeat at the hands of the three-time defending state champion Panthers.
“We are not going to swing at all. We aren't going to swing at everything he throws,” said PV head coach Mike McGaha of the team's strategy against Curley. “It is the same plan we have had against the kid since he has been young. If he throws strikes, he is going to be very hard to beat, but I have never seen him throw enough strikes to keep his defense out of a pressure situation.”
McGaha prepared his team all week to face Curley. He had the team watching pitches even during batting practice.
“When we saw him against Farmington High earlier this year, we charted that game and he was 28 percent first-pitch strikes, even though they swung at so many of them it turned into 48 percent first-pitch strikes,” McGaha said. “He was in a 3-1 count to the first three batters of the game against FHS and he gave up no runs.
“We have worked harder this year than we have ever worked as a coaching staff to try to get our kids ready to play this kind of game because Aztec was 13-3 and ranked in the top-five in the state by all accounts. I think they have good enough athletes to push for a district championship, so it was very important for us to go out and execute our game plan, and that is what you saw.”
Aztec assistant coach Brett Alexander said the Tigers (13-4, 0-1 District 1-4A) played their worst game of the season to date on Tuesday.
“It was frustrating because (Curley) is better than what he showed. He has pitched a lot better this year and he knows he is better,” Alexander said. “There is nothing I can tell him that he doesn't already know. He knows he didn't have a good outing and he can throw better than he did, but, more importantly, we just didn't play. We prepared well for the last week, and we thought we were ready. The kids were excited to try to make a statement, and we just didn't do it.”
While Curley struggled, Ian Doughty dominated the Aztec lineup on the mound for Piedra Vista.
The senior pitched all five innings of the run-rule shortened game, giving up two hits while striking out eight and walking two.
“It definitely wasn't my strongest outing, but it was good to get the win,” said Doughty, who McGaha said has struggled with mechanical issues in recent appearances. “I felt like I got better and better each inning, especially with the help of my defense. The way I finished the game definitely gives me confidence for our upcoming games.”
Doughty threw 42 pitches in the first two innings but settled into a groove. He threw only 21 pitches in the final three innings combined and he finished the game by striking out the Aztec side.
Doughty, another Division I prospect, said he wasn't concerned about out-dueling Curley on the mound.
“It never really crossed my mind. It's all about the team and our results,” he said. “It's what my teammates do for me that gives me confidence, not throwing against another decent pitcher.”
Curley was relieved in the bottom of the first inning by Dylan Stinson. Stinson came on with the bases loaded and gave up a bases-clearing double to PV senior Jacy Cave and an RBI-single to Zach Ahlgrim before getting out of the first inning by striking out Doughty.
“Jacy, in my opinion, delivered the dagger. The game was far from over, but the bases-clearing double was the dagger,” McGaha said. “I thought it was more important for him to do it against a guy who came in that might be able to throw a strike than they guy who walked the others in. The is the kind of impact he can have in a game.”
PV leadoff hitter Matt Martin was 3-for-3 in the game with a triple, a walk and three runs scored.
McGaha has been happy with the production of his leadoff man, who has an on-base-percentage over .500.
“I have trust in my two through four guys to get me around,” Martin said. “I do the best of my ability to get on base and let them take it from there.”
Stinson was able to keep the ball in the zone but he was touched for seven hits including three extra-base hits in his three and one-third innings of work.
“Dylan has been doing that since he was a freshman. We took him to state with us after bringing him up halfway through his freshman season. We put him in against St. Pius X in a similar situation and he proved he can throw ground balls and strikes to keep us in the game,” Alexander said.
Aztec will have to regroup before facing Farmington High on Saturday in a pivotal game for the Tigers' season. Farmington is 1-0 in District 1-4A and is coming off a 27-5 victory at Kirtland Central.
“I told the kids in the dugout, ‘Once we walk out of this stadium, the game is over with and I won't bring it up again.' We can't go back and second guess ourselves. We have to get prepared for Farmington,” Alexander said. “I have seen FHS make huge strides over the season and they are getting healthy. (Sean) Trotter is a very good manager and does a great job with that program. He will have them ready to play and they will ride the momentum train from their big win at Kirtland and hopefully we can derail it. We just played the worst game of our season from pitching to hitting. We came out flat, and we can't do that against FHS or we will be 0-2 in this district.”
PV (12-8, 1-0) will be back in action Saturday at Kirtland Central where Jacy Cave will get the start on the mound.
“I really don't care what any score is. I want my pitcher to be strike one and I want to be clean in the field if they put the ball in play. I don't care if it is 32-0, we can still get something out of that” McGaha said. “I am not concerned about Kirtland, I am only concerned about PV.”
John Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.