RIO RANCHO — Navajo Prep’s path to its first softball state championship in school history became much longer after a second round loss on Wednesday.
No. 3 Navajo Prep had no problem getting past No. 14 Laguna Acoma 10-0 in a single-elimination game in the first round of the 1A/2A softball state tournament in Rio Rancho. But the Lady Eagles stumbled against No. 11 Jal in the second round, which begins the double-elimination bracket.
Navajo Prep fell to 1A Jal 7-4, dropping the Lady Eagles into the loser’s bracket, where they will have to win four games on Thursday to reach the state championship game on Friday.
“We had opportunities and didn’t take care of ourselves today. We struggled at the plate,” said Navajo Prep head coach Darin Wright. “We will be ready for (Thursday) and do everything we need to do.”
The Lady Eagles (21-7) took an early 1-0 lead on Jal (15-12) before the Panthers went ahead 2-1 and eventually 4-1.
Navajo Prep cut Jal’s lead to 4-3, but a costly call by an umpire haunted the Lady Eagles late in the game.
“It was a call that everybody in the stands knows was incorrect, and Jal got three runs after we should have been out of an inning,” Wright said. “They ran out of the base line. My girls did exactly what they are taught and didn’t get a call. The next pitch, they get a hit and a gust of wind came blowing straight in and the ball ends up dropping 30 feet in front of my center fielder.”
Jal’s victory continued its upset run on Wednesday. In the morning, Jal upset No. 6 Capitan 6-2.
Kiera Rocke was 2-for-4 with a triple in the game for Navajo Prep.
Lady Eagles’ pitcher Jazmine Kinsel had a career-high 16 strikeouts from the circle.
“Our pitcher did her job. It was her best performance of the year from a strikeout standpoint,” Wright said.
Navajo Prep stranded 12 runners in scoring position against Jal.
The Lady Eagles play at 8 a.m. Thursday against No. 7 Eunice in Rio Rancho. With a win, they would play again at noon against the loser of No. 1 Loving and No. 4 Rehoboth.
Navajo Prep could potentially play a third and even a fourth game on Thursday, though it would likely require going through either No. 1 Loving or No. 2 Cobre.
“It is a new day. (Wednesday) was a new day for us. This is a new thing for us being at state, but we will be ready,” Wright said. “When you get to state, seeding doesn’t matter much. You have to play everybody and beat everybody. We are the only team ready for four games in a day. We practice that. We played seven games in three days on opening weekend. We got ourselves ready just in case.”
Loving advanced with ease on Wednesday with a 16-0 win against No. 16 Tohatchi and a 13-0 win against No. 9 Mora in the second round.
Cobre impressed with a 27-0 win against No. 15 Pecos in Round 1 and a 12-0 victory against No. 7 Eunice in the afternoon.
John Livingston can be reached at email@example.com; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.