Caleb Castanon waits on a throw to second so he can make the tag on a Melrose baserunner.
Russell Huffman | El Defensor Chieftain

Melrose junior hurler Mike Cardonita scattered seven hits and issued nine strikeouts to keep Magdalena at bay as the eventual state champion Buffaloes defeated the Steers 14-5 in the Class A baseball quarterfinals at the Jennifer Riordan Spark Kindness Sports Complex on May 12.

“I think the moment was too big for them,” coach Kyl Candelaria said. “I have a lot of guys that have never been in situations before. You start a freshman on the mound with no big-game experience in any sport, and it’s hard, but I am not disappointed in these guys.”

Russell Huffman | El Defensor Chieftain
Eighth-grade pitcher Josiah Candelaria is part of Magdalena’s baseball future.

Candelaria had every reason to be proud after the Steers won their first district title since 2017 and were ranked No. 2 heading into the state tournament. Everyone will agree that this team’s best years are still in front of them, but none of that mattered against Melrose.

It was the third time the two teams have squared off this season, with the Steers winning the first game of a doubleheader and falling in the second one.

None of that mattered on Friday in a winner-take-all situation that didn’t play into the hands of the Steers, who drew a bye in the first round of the playoffs and only needed to win two games to win the state championship.

That kind of situation doesn’t square up nicely for a young team that can always use a boost of confidence. Adding in the waiting to find out who you will play only raises anxiety. The usually cool and calm Steers tried too hard when they fell behind, and Cardonita’s curveball also handcuffed them.

Melrose jumped out to a 3-0 first-inning lead when Shane Montoya gave up a single, and then he hit a batter with a pitch that put two runners onboard. A second single and an overthrow to home did the early damage.

The Steers responded with a triple by Joe Zamora, and Daniel Martinez poked him home with a single up the middle to make it 3-1. Montoya settled down on the mound, but his pitch count slowly ticked up and wasn’t helped by close calls at the plate, including a 10-pitch walk.

The Buffaloes broke open the floodgates in the fourth inning, where Candelaria was forced to make a pitching change, bringing Josh Baca into a bases-loaded situation. The senior left a pitch hanging at the plate, and a grand-slam homer put the Steers further in the hole.

Down 12-1 after five innings, the Steers were in danger of being run-ruled before a single by Baca was followed up by another from Kaleb Castanon. Castanon would use his speed during several Melrose miscues to get across home plate.

A Montoya double scored a fourth run, and Ayden Hershbach’s sacrifice fly tallied the Steers’ final run at five.

Despite the loss, Magdalena’s 2023 season has sent a message across 1A baseball that the Steers will be part of the playoff picture in the near future.

“That’s true and especially since all my pitchers are young guys. They are going to carry us for the next two or three years,” Candelaria said.

More than likely, that will be the next four years because Candelaria’s eighth grade son, Josiah, also got some experience against the Buffaloes when he relieved Baca.

You can’t ask for anything more, especially from a group of young guys,” Candelaria said. “My four seniors went out as district champs and came as far as any Magdalena baseball team has come in the last 30 years. To go out and get a 13-4 record, you can see there’s no reason to be upset.”

The Steers 2023 seniors include Jaydon Jaramillo, Kaleb Castanon, Josh Baca and Daniel Martinez.