Seniors lead Socorro to historic title win

The following baseball math might seem a little off, but it makes sense when describing Texas' Class 5A baseball champions from Socorro (El Paso):

"Most of the teams that we played had good hitters one through six in the batting order," said senior infielder George Stoltz. "We had them one through 10."

A batting order of 10?

"Even coming off the bench," he clarified.

The ESPN RISE FAB 50 No. 5 Socorro Bulldogs compiled a team batting average of .406. Their No. 9 batter, Ivan Sigala, hit .440. Their 5-foot-3 senior catcher, Jessirey Navarette, led the team with a .509 batting average.

"This little bitty kid would come up to bat and everybody would move in," Socorro coach Chris Forbes said, "and he'd just hit it over their heads."

There were a lot of balls hit over heads. The senior-laden Bulldogs hit 74 home runs in going 35-4. They scored in double figures 22 times in winning the school's first state title.

Senior center fielder Cory Falvey was named the most valuable player of the two-round state tournament, during which Socorro defeated Westlake (Austin) 11-3 and Lufkin 12-7. Falvey hit a three-run home run against Westlake and hit two more, including a grand slam, in the championship game. He finished the season with 19 homers and 67 RBIs. Then he went to San Antonio the following week to play in an all-star game and hit another one.

"We had something like 16 seniors, and most of them are starters and we've been playing together since we were 3," Falvey said. "It's something we've been dreaming of. Dreams do come true when you put hard work into them."

Those seniors reported this spring after reaching the regional semifinals each of the previous two seasons.

"We really didn't talk about being the next state champions," said Forbes, a Socorro alum who has been varsity baseball coach for 25 years (the team now plays at Chris Forbes Field). "We never really set winning a state championship as a goal. We just knew what each other was thinking."

The season began ominously when Socorro scored the tying run late against 4A Riverside (El Paso), only to have the game called because of darkness and the run negated. But there were few dark moments in the season. Senior right-handers Bobby Mares (11-1, 119 strikeouts in 88 innings) and Tavi Amparan (11-1, 85 strikeouts in 73 2/3 innings) provided a solid one-two pitching punch, and the Bulldogs' offense usually marched around the bases.

"If some guys weren't hitting one day, we knew guys at the bottom of the order were going to be able to come through," Forbes said. "So we never felt like we were out of a game."

The one gut check came during the third round of the playoffs played in Midland. Socorro lost the best-of-three opener to Weatherford 6-3 and had to win twice the next day to reach the regional semifinals. The players hunkered down after Game 1 with a dinner at Chili's and didn't dwell on the day's events.

"We didn't really worry about it," Falvey said. "You can't go back and do anything about it but capitalize on it the next day." Which they did, winning 16-1 and 3-0.

El Paso is located in the far western tip of Texas, the only major city in the state found in the Mountain Time Zone. Its distance from Texas' other major metropolitan areas is often demonstrated by the fact that El Paso is closer to Los Angeles than it is to Houston. Relatively secluded from the rest of Texas and with Mexico to the south -- and playing in a 16-game district schedule -- El Paso teams don't face much competition from the rest of Texas until the playoffs. And the Bulldogs showed what they could do.

"I saw a difference in the kids once we made the playoffs," Forbes said, "a little more excitement."

Socorro High's street address is listed in El Paso while it's located in the city of Socorro, just down the Rio Grande from downtown El Paso. The Bulldogs' win has been hailed as the first by an El Paso baseball team in the state tournament since Bowie won in 1949, before classifications were established. It's the first by any El Paso team in baseball, football or boys' basketball since Eastwood won in 4A, then the largest division, in 1976.

Stoltz, who went from playing the infield to DH-ing following a midseason arm injury, said the historical nature of the Bulldogs' quest didn't add any pressure.

"With a lot of returning seniors, I had a good feeling that we had a shot to go all the way," he said.

The Bulldogs will be going all the way up Alameda Avenue in Socorro on Monday, honored with a parade followed by fireworks.

Riding in the back of convertibles?

"That would be nice," Falvey said. "We'll probably walk."

Jeff Miller is a freelance writer in Texas and can be reached at miller.jeff55@gmail.com.