ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — One more time, it’s La Cueva and Rio Rancho.
The state’s two best prep baseball teams advanced into tonight’s Class 5A title game with semifinal wins Friday at wind-swept Isotopes Park.
No. 1 La Cueva rallied late to force extra innings, then eliminated No. 4 Oñate 5-4 in eight. The second-seeded Rams bounced No. 3 Eldorado 10-7.
First pitch today is 7 p.m. The defending champion Rams nipped the Bears 6-5 in last year’s final.
LA CUEVA 5, ONATE 4 (8): The Bears (27-2) were one out from summer when Stephen Carabajal’s RBI single in the seventh scored Ryan Winter to knot the game 4-all.
“I’m just glad to be playing (today),” La Cueva coach Gerard Pineda said.
In the eighth, Zach Nelson reached on an error – two of them, actually – and came around to score on Winter’s walk-off single to right-center.
“We struggled all night offensively,” said Winter, who had three of La Cueva’s eight hits. “We didn’t get some key hits but … we’re gonna find a way.”
Nelson got two breaks in his plate appearance in the eighth. Oñate catcher Tony Covarubbia dropped a pop foul to extend the at-bat, and then Nelson reached on a throwing error moments later.
Extra innings would not have been possible, however, without the heroics of Carabajal, who rolled a two-out single.
“We never gave up,” said Carabajal. “When they went ahead 4-2, I told the guys, ‘We’re gonna win this game. Don’t have any doubt in your mind.’ All I have to say is we’re not done.”
The Knights (24-5) spotted La Cueva a 2-0 lead. Winter tripled home a run, and he later scored on a wild pitch. But wild pitches turned this game around for Oñate.
La Cueva starter Ryan Padilla lost the plate in the fifth. He walked in one run and wild-pitched two others home as the Knights scored four times.
Matt Smith’s RBI double in the fifth scored Winter to make it 4-3.
RIO RANCHO 10, ELDORADO 7: The Rams squandered a five-run lead but broke a tie against Eagles’ ace southpaw Sam Wilson with three runs in the fifth.
It was a swinging bunt by catcher Ethan McCranie that got the rally started with two out. Wilson then walked Joe Sena and Gavin Biswell, loading the bases.
“I lost my release point,” Wilson said. “And I lost the strike zone.”
The next batter, Aleq Chavez, took a close pitch at 2-2. He slapped a 3-2 pitch from Wilson up the middle, scoring two runs for a 7-5 lead.
“I got something pretty big, actually,” Chavez said.
Rio Rancho scored twice in the first and three times in the second off the previously undefeated Wilson (6-1). That included an RBI double by Marcus Martinez, which was followed in the second by a two-run home run to left by big brother Kris Martinez. It was 5-0 Rams.
“A lot of different things today from a lot of different players,” Rio Rancho coach Ron Murphy said. “That’s how we’ve done it all year.”
Eldorado (26-3) chased Ram starter Joe Sena – and his replacement, Gavin Biswell – in the fourth as it scored five times to tie. Murphy was forced to summon ace Josh Walker, who pitched five shutout innings Thursday against Hobbs.
When Walker entered, there were runners at first and second following an intentional walk to the dangerous Wilson.
Davis Cantwell chopped the first pitch to third, where Biswell stepped on the bag to retire the side.
“That was a tough spot. (But) that’s when the adrenaline is pumping. That’s when you’re at your best,” said Walker. “That’s when you’re body responds. It’s either attack or run.”
Walker (10-1) went 3 1/3 innings and has been the winning pitcher in four consecutive games. He is eligible to throw only another 3 1/3 innings in the tournament.
“I got it all,” said Walker of his energy level.