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Rams, Matadors to face off

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Rio Rancho’s win a bit unconventional, while Sandia rides pitching

The entirety of the Sandia High School baseball season – this trek started the minute the Matadors left Isotopes Park 52 weeks ago – has been leading up to today.

A year after a crushing loss to Carlsbad in the finals, Sandia once again is in the Class 5A championship game.

“We’re excited to make a run for it,” senior shortstop David Gunther said.

The third-seeded Matadors, seeking the school’s first title since 1980, eliminated rival La Cueva in Friday’s semifinals at Lobo Field. They will face No. 5 Rio Rancho at 12:30 this afternoon at Isotopes Park. The Rams rallied to upset Carlsbad in the first semifinal.

No. 5 RIO RANCHO 7, No. 1 CARLSBAD 3: A triple off the glove of an outfielder. A bloop single. A courageous bunt. And a ball lost in the sun above Lobo Field.

That was the anatomy of Rio Rancho’s game-changing top of the sixth, when the Rams (22-8) scored four runs – all with two outs – that effectively propelled them into today’s final.

“Sometimes,” Rio Rancho coach Ron Murphy said, “you do the conventional stuff and lose.”

This rally was decidedly unconventional.

The Cavemen (25-5) broke a scoreless tie with two runs in the bottom of the fifth. Austin Edwards’ RBI double scored Broc Landreth, and Brandon Slate later scored on a slowly hit ground ball.

In the Rams’ sixth, Carlsbad starter Dev’n Ortiz quickly retired the first two batters.

What happened in the next 10 minutes unraveled the Cavemen’s season.

Carlsbad center fielder Landreth chugged a long way to get to Grant Templin’s fly ball to right-center, and it glanced off the heel of his glove for a triple.

Newcomer Tim O’Meara lofted a bloop single into short left to score Templin, slicing the deficit in half.

Angelo Lujan, in the No. 8 hole, reached on a brave (and perfectly placed) bunt down the third-base line, leaving runners at first and second.

Next, Vic Chavez’s pop fly into short center looked like it would end the inning.

Instead, it changed the game. And the tournament.

Carlsbad shortstop Jared Rodriguez never picked it up. The ball fell for a stunning two-RBI double, as O’Meara and Lujan both raced home for a 3-2 lead.

“I just tried to put the ball in play, and good things happen when you put the ball in play,” Chavez said.

Marcus Martinez plated Chavez with a double two pitches later.

The Rams added three insurance runs in the seventh. Carlsbad hit two batters with the bases loaded, and a third scored on a wild pitch.

Eli Cappello (5-2) went the distance to get the win for the Rams, who were last in the championship game in 2010, when it lost to La Cueva.

No. 3 SANDIA 6, No. 2 LA CUEVA 0: The veteran Matadors have been itching to get back to the finals, and they did so with relatively little trouble.

Senior left-hander Carson Schneider (10-1) followed the efforts of Warren McKenney from a day earlier, throwing a six-hit shutout at the Bears (21-7). Sandia pitching has recorded 14 shutout innings the last two days.

“We’re throwing strikes and letting them hit the ball,” said Schneider, who’ll be making Lobo Field his home next year as a University of New Mexico pitcher. “We pitched to contact, and our defense was terrific.”

Said Sandia coach John Gunther: “He believes in himself, and so do we. We knew Carson would do this.”

The top of the Sandia lineup was outstanding Friday.

Each of the top four batters – Danny Collier, David Gunther, Ryan Reinhart and Brandon Shaffer – had multiple-hit games. They combined to go 8-of-13 with five runs and three RBIs.

“A lot of it is just momentum,” said Reinhart, who was 2-for-3 with two runs and an RBI and who will start the final for Sandia today. “We want to win it as bad as anybody.”

An early defensive gem set the tone. Sandia first baseman Craig Coffman made an over-the-shoulder in foul territory running toward right field, then spun and threw Andrew Pratt out at home plate. Pratt was trying to tag from third base. La Cueva had several opportunities to get to Schneider early, but couldn’t.

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