4A: Diving catch seals Grants' first baseball crown

May 18—Few have ever put their stamp on a game quite like Boudy Melonas did in Saturday's 4A state final.

Because, at first, it looked like Jack Byers had a base hit. A high, long fly with two outs in the top of the seventh, soaring into the outfield with Grants' center fielder tracking it in the late afternoon sun.

And if it did indeed drop, Melonas said he was going to play it off the hop. Artesia would get at least a run in, trimming their deficit to 5-4. Maybe two, setting up a tie that couldn't have come at a worse time for the Pirates.

But in a second that lingered like a minute at Santa Ana Star Field, the ball kept traveling. As did Melonas. The junior dove for the ball, sliding across the outfield turf for a chance to end the 4A state championship right then and there.

"I looked at my glove," Melonas said, "and the ball was at the tip of my glove."

One year after falling as a top seed to Albuquerque Academy in the quarterfinals, Grants avenged that loss with a 6-5 extra innings win against the Chargers on Friday and picked up a coveted blue trophy Saturday afternoon, 5-3 over the Bulldogs.

"The last three weeks have been history for us," second-year head coach Mike Furbee said. "We were talking about (the) steps we've taken to somewhere we hadn't been as a program. Now that we've finally finished, it feels good."

Grants took a 2-1 lead in the first after left fielder Jett Whitmire misplayed Dominick Gonzales' shot to left field, scoring him and Estevan Barela. In turn, the Bulldogs took advantage of a few key outfield errors of their own to help pull ahead 3-2 before Izeyah Manzanares' RBI single and Barela's RBI double pulled the Pirates ahead for good in the second inning.

After allowing three runs over a rocky first two innings, Grants starter Manzanares settled in to retire 12 of 13 batters as the Pirates extended their lead to 5-3 off Melonas' sacrifice fly in the third. One of just two seniors on the team, Manzanares entered the seventh facing Artesia's eight and nine hitters with a perfect ending to his prep career on the line.

Then Jett Fuentes ripped a single to left center field on the first pitch. Jett Whitmire did much of the same. All of a sudden there were two on and no outs, with Manzanares creeping toward his NMAA-enforced pitch count and the top of the order looming.

Grants got some much-needed breathing room off two stellar defensive plays from catcher Diego Lopez: the first, stumbling backward to catch leadoff hitter Nye Estrada's tall pop fly behind home plate and the second, picking off Fuentes on an ill-fated send to third.

And with just one out between the Pirates and their first state title, Manzanares hit catcher Frankie Galindo in the back. Furbee confirmed that Byers was going to be his last batter no matter what, with Gonzales already warming up in the bullpen.

Then, with a 3-1 count, Artesia's third baseman squared up a pitch in Melonas' direction. Minutes after a catch to remember, Furbee said Grants' win hadn't quite sunk in yet.

"It never does," he said with a smile. "You know, I'm really looking forward to next year. So, we'll enjoy this moment and we'll start to get ready for next season."

Melonas indicated otherwise.

"(It's) everything," he said, beaming. "It feels good."