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Monday, May 24, 1999

Eagles' pay back Rangers, win series

Staff Writer
ALPINE, May 24 -- Don't play the Pecos Eagles after a shutout.

Even if you're the same team that just posted the shutout.

Even if you're the same pitcher that just shut the Eagles out.

El Paso Riverside sophomore Beto Romo handcuffed the Eagles on three hits in Game 2 of the teams' best-of-three playoff series at Kokernot Field on Saturday, and the Rangers tied the series with a 2-0 win. But when Riverside manager Jesse Melendez elected to start Romo again in the deciding Game 3, it took Pecos only two batters to get on the scoreboard and just five to equal their hit total off Romo in all of Game 2.

Romo's replacements didn't do any better, as the Eagles rapped out 15 hits on the way to a five-inning, 11-1 win, sending them to the Region I-4A semifinals for the first time since 1990.

"They were mad about losing the game and about that kid shutting them down," Eagles' coach Bubba Williams said. "I told them this is embarrassing if he can come back and start the third game after pitching seven innings and beat us. I said if he can go out there and pitch 14 innings and shut us down for 14 innings we didn't deserve to win and I told them to go out and show them he can't."

Romo's three-hitter ended the Eagles' 16-game winning streak, which began after an error-plague 12-0 loss to Colorado City on March 19. Pecos roared back the next day to beat Muleshoe, 13-3, then won 10 straight district games, two practice games over Alpine and their first three playoff games before being halted by the lefthander, who outpitched junior Oscar Rodriguez.

Pifi Montoya may have been only the second-best sophomore pitcher at Kokernot Field on Saturday, and he was not as overpowering as he had been in preserving Pecos' series-clinching win over Plainview seven days earlier. But Montoya (4-1) was good enough, and his defense was good enough, to shut down Riverside for 3 1/3 innings before giving way to Josh Casillas, who had beaten the Rangers in Game 1, 3-1.

"Pifi's more of a relief pitcher that a starter right now," Williams said. "He can come in and throw three innings right now, but he's got to get in better shape."

Casillas also wasn't as effective as in his previous outing, but with a 7-0 lead to work with he had more than enough cushion to secure the victory, though it took a full-extension diving catch by Oscar Luna on Abe Martinez' deep fly to center field keep Riverside from extending the game to the sixth inning.

"Oscar had two triples and a single and played helatious defense," Williams said. "He's the spark plug of the team. When he goes, they all go."

Luna spent much of the second game landing on his face, all but once with good results for Pecos.

He made a diving slide into first base to open the game, beating out an infield hit to shortstop. Moments later, he was diving into home plate to beat Gilbert Quinones' tag, as he scored Pecos' first run of the afternoon on Mason Abila's double down the left field line.

Luna didn't have to slide, but did have a long run, to corral Joe Villarreal's deep fly off Montoya to open the bottom of the first, but in the second he'd be back on the basepaths, sliding into third base with a two-run triple off George Apodaca, who replaced Romo on the mound. Then in the fifth, Luna would drive home the run that would allow Pecos to end the game early, tripling again to right-center field, before being thrown out trying to circle the bases on a bobbled relay throw.

"What it came down to was they hit the ball when they needed to and they came up with the big plays when we had runners on base," Melendez said. Along with Luna's catches, shortstop Luis Salgado started double plays in each of the first two innings and Gutierrez kept Riverside off the board in the third, diving to snare a shot by Romo with two on and two away.

In Saturday's first game, Pecos couldn't get their leadoff hitter on base until the sixth inning when Orlando Lara led off with a single. Casillas would also reach to open the seventh, off a walk, but both times Romo came back to shut Pecos down, retiring the next three batters in order to earn his second straight playoff shutout before taking the Game 3 loss to finish the year with a 9-3 mark.

"When you get to the third game of a series, you're going to start running out of pitchers. we tried to go with Romo, but it didn't work out," Melendez said. "But he pitched real well in the second game, and it's a credit to our kids that we did what we had to do to force a Game 3."

Rodriguez, meanwhile, spent most of the Game 2 dodging Riverside bullets, and getting nailed by one `bullet' from Mark Abila.

The catcher hit Rodriguez just above the left knee with a throw to second base at the end of warmups in the sixth inning, sending him down to the ground. Rodriguez was limping and throwing slower after that but actually had less trouble with the Rangers' hitters over the final two innings. Riverside left 10 runners on base in the game, seven in the first five innings and five in scoring position.

However, they did get just enough for Romo to work with. Martinez singled home Villarreal in the first inning, after he opened the game with a hit, and Omar Ferinza scored Apodaca with a two-out single in the fifth, after he reached on an error by Orlando Lara. Lara started the first two games at second base in place of Louis Valencia, who was benched for disciplinary reasons.

Riverside also was frustrated in Game 1 by Casillas, stranding six runners while collecting only three hits. They managed just one run after loading the bases with none out in the fourth, and wasted a lead-off double by Apodaca in the sixth, with the Eagles clinging to a 2-1 lead.

Casillas struck out Romo and after Apodaca went to third on Joel Delgado's ground out, fanned Quinones to end the threat. Singles by Luna and Mason Abila and a delayed break for home by Luna on Jeff Martinez' ground out in the seventh gave Casillas an insurance run to work with, and he improved his record to 11-1 on the year.

Apodaca's double came on a 3-2 pitch, after Casillas appeared to have struck him out with a 2-2 curveball. It was one of several calls by the El Paso-area umpire Williams was unhappy with, and he was even more upset Saturday when he found out Melendez wanted the same ump behind home plate for the deciding Game 3.

"He said the other ump had bad knees," Williams said. Each team got to bring two umpires from their area chapter, with the home team getting their umpires at home plate and second base.

After a 10-minute argument, the Rangers won the dispute by winning a coin flip. But unlike Game 1, when Ferinza's very low and inside screwball was often called for a strike, Pecos' batters didn't allow enough pitches to go by in Game 3 to complain about any bad strike calls.

The win improved Pecos' record to 24-6-1 and sent them into the Region I-4A quarterfinals for the first time since 1990. They'll face the Weatherford Kangaroos in Snyder, with games at 6 and 8 p.m. set for Thursday and a third game, if needed, at noon on Friday. The games were moved up due to high school graduation ceremonies.

Weatherford swept their series over Wichita Falls Rider this past weekend, but not without a lot of stomach churning for Kangaroo players and fans. They blew a chance to end Game 1 under the 10-run rule, then saw Rider cut the lead to 10-9 before winning 11-9. In Game 2, Rider rallied late from a 7-4 deficit to send the game into extra innings, before Weatherford won it in the 10th by an 8-7 score.

The winner will advance to the regional finals against either Lubbock Estacado or Andrews, both of whom advanced with weekend sweeps, over Pampa and Denton Ryan.

Game 1
Pecos 0 0 2 0 0 0 1 --3 7 2
EP Riverside 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 --1 3 1
Casillas and Mk. Abila. Ferinza and Quinones.
E -- A. Martinez, Lara, J. Martinez. DP -- Pecos 1. LOB -- Pecos 8, EP Riverside 6. 2B -- Apodaca. S -- Romo. CS -- Bates. PB -- Quinones. WP -- Casillas (11-1, 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K). LP -- Ferinza (5-3, 7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 K).

Game 2
EP Riverside 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 --2 5 2
Pecos 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 --0 3 2
Romo and Quinones. Rodriguez and Mk. Abila.
E -- J. Martinez, A. Martinez 2, Lara. DP -- EP Riverside 1. LOB -- Pecos 3, EP Riverside 10. S -- Apodaca, Delgado, Romo. CS -- Mk. Abila, H. Garcia. HBP -- Hood by Rodriguez. W -- Romo (9-2, 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K). L -- Rodriguez (8-2, 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 K).

Game 3


ab r h bi ab r h bi
Luna cf 4 2 3 3 Vllral cf-p 3 0 1 0
Ma.Abila lf 3 1 2 2 Apa ss-p-ss 1 0 1 0
J.Mrtnz 3b 3 0 0 0 Romo p-1b 2 0 1 1
Herrera 3b 0 0 0 0 Mriscl cr 0 0 0 0
Montoya p 0 0 0 0 A.Mrtnz 3b 3 0 1 0
Caslls dh-p 2 0 1 1 Fnz 1b-lf-cf 2 0 1 0
H.Garcia cr 0 1 0 0 Quinones c 2 0 1 0
Gutrrez 1b 3 0 3 0 Hd 2b-ss-2b 2 0 0 0
Florez pr 0 1 0 0 Delgado rf 2 0 0 0
Salgado ss 3 1 1 2 Aceueda lf 0 0 0 0
Bates rf 2 2 1 0 Amadoa 2b 0 0 0 0
Mk.Abila c 2 2 1 2 Vasquez p 0 0 0 0
Valencia 2b 3 1 2 1 Aceueda lf 0 0 0 0
Herndez dh 2 1 1 0

Totals 25 11 14 11 Totals 19 1 7 1
Pecos 2 3 2 0 4 --11
EP Riverside 0 0 0 0 1 -- 1
E -- Hood, Gutierrez. DP -- Pecos 2, EP Riverside 1. LOB -- Pecos 2, EP Riverside 6. 2B -- Ma. Abila, Salgado. 3B -- Luna 2. HR -- Mk. Abila. SF -- Casillas, Romo. CS -- Valencia.

Montoya W, 4-1 3 1-3 5 0 0 2 1
Casillas 1 2-3 2 1 1 0 0

EP Riverside
Romo L, 9-3 1 3 2 2 0 1
Apodaca 1 2-3 5 5 4 1 0
Vasquez 1 1-3 4 3 3 0 0
Villarreal 1 2 1 1 1 0
Vasquez pitched to three batters in the fifth.
PB -- Mk. Abila.
T -- 1:42.

Spurs team up to end season for Lakers

AP Sports Writer
INGLEWOOD, Calif., May 24 -- San Antonio's Mario Elie believes the best team won the Western Conference semifinal series between the Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers.

He said the word ``team'' with special emphasis.

That being the case, the Lakers would no doubt agree.

``It's all mental, a couple of these games definitely could have gone either way,'' Elie said after the Spurs beat the Lakers 118-107 Sunday to complete a four-game series sweep and earn a berth in the conference finals. ``We're a team, we play like a team. This is a team game.

``We've got mental toughness, a veteran ballclub. We've been through the wars before.''

Elie certainly has, as a member of championship teams with the Houston Rockets in 1994-95. Elie joined the Spurs during the offseason and brought some of the toughness he spoke about.

Everything didn't come together right away. In fact, the Spurs entered March with a 6-8 record, including two losses to the Lakers.

Now, San Antonio is a juggernaut.

``We had an understanding, but it wasn't clear,'' point guard Avery Johnson said. ``Now, everybody's on the game page. And we're a much tougher team than we were in years past.''

Not only that, the Spurs have a new go-to guy. For years, it was David Robinson. Now, it's second-year forward Tim Duncan, who was at his best in two games at the Forum over the weekend.

Duncan had 33 points, 13 rebounds and four assists Sunday, a day after getting 37 points, 14 rebounds and four assists in a 103-91 San Antonio victory.

Duncan went 11-of-14 from both the field and foul line as the Spurs, who finished the regular season with 31 wins in their final 36 games, raised their playoff record to 7-1.

``He's just a heck of a competitor, he plays an all-around game,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Duncan, the first overall selection in the 1997 NBA draft. ``He really understands how to play, he's just smart.''

The Spurs, who never trailed, took command by scoring the first 13 points of the fourth quarter for a 99-84 lead. The Lakers weren't closer than seven points after that.

``We just kept our composure, ran our offense the way we wanted to and went back and set up our defense,'' Duncan said.

While the surging Spurs are headed for the conference finals for just the fifth time in their history, the Lakers, anointed by many as the team to beat before the season and again before the playoffs, are suddenly on vacation.

``It's very embarrassing,'' Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal said of the sweep. ``Every time I get sent home, I get embarrassed.

``I hate saying, `Well, we played hard.' No, now it's over.''

O'Neal led the Lakers with 36 points and 14 rebounds. Rick Fox added 17 points and Kobe Bryant had 16 points and eight rebounds for Los Angeles.

``Basically, it boils down to teamwork,'' said Lakers forward Glen Rice, who was held to 11 points. ``A lot of times there wasn't a lot of teamwork out there.

``We weren't together. They were together.''

Reserve Jaren Jackson added 20 points and Johnson had 19 points and 10 assists for the Spurs, who went 39-of-54 from the foul line compared to 23-of-36 for the Lakers.

Now, the Spurs get some time off before facing the winner of the Utah-Portland series, with a berth in the NBA Finals at stake.

The Trail Blazers hold a 3-1 lead entering Game 5 on Tuesday night.

The Spurs, who have homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, have never advanced to the NBA Finals, much less won a championship.

The game was the final regular-season or playoff game for the Lakers at the Forum, where they've played their home games since Dec. 31, 1967.

They are scheduled to play two exhibition games at the Forum next fall before moving to the new Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles for the 1999-2000 season.

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Pecos Enterprise
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