RIO RANCHO – For reasons that hardly seem relevant now, the Rio Rancho High School baseball team muddled its way through February and March.
The offense was hit and miss, and so was the pitching. Maybe there was even a tinge of post-championship malaise coming off the program’s unexpected state title last spring.
But Class 5A’s defending champions are going to hit April at full speed.
The revved-up Rams banged out 11 hits against three pitchers Saturday afternoon and scored three runs on infield singles as Rio Rancho held off Carlsbad 6-4 in the final of the Sal Puentes Invitational.
“We’re definitely starting to play together as a team,” said senior Eli Cappello, the tournament most valuable player and the winning pitcher on Saturday. “That was the problem at the beginning. We were selfish and not doing the little things right.”
That issue appears to have been ironed out as Rio Rancho (10-5) won its fifth consecutive game.
“Things are coming together the way we want them,” Rio Rancho coach Ron Murphy said.
The Rams scored the game’s first five runs. Angelo Lujan delivered Eddy Vasquez with an RBI single in the bottom of the first, and Rio Rancho tacked on four additional runs in the third.
Grant Templin, one of the all-tournament selections for the Rams, smacked an RBI single into left to make it 2-0. An intentional walk to Mark Dominguez loaded the bases with one out.
Jared Winter grounded to deep short, where Carlsbad’s Jared Rodriguez had to eat the ball when he had nowhere to go with it. That scored a run.
The next batter, Tim O’Meara, laid down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt, and O’Meara reached safely because the Cavemen’s second baseman couldn’t get to first base in time to cover the bag.
Vic Chavez added a sacrifice fly to make it 5-0.
The Cavemen (11-2) chased Cappello (4-0) in the fifth. Reliever Vasquez surrendered a two-run double to Ryan Razo, and a two-RBI single on the next pitch to Luke Hartert.
But the Rams added a crucial insurance run in the bottom half on O’Meara’s second successful suicide squeeze.
O’Meara reached safely on this squeeze, too, giving him two RBIs on two singles that traveled a combined 12 feet.
Vasquez closed out Carlsbad in the sixth and seventh without complications to earn the save. Rio Rancho had saves in each of its three wins at this tournament.
“Coach Murphy always says it doesn’t matter how you start (a season) – it’s how you end it,” said senior shortstop Marcus Martinez, another all-tournament selection.
Carlsbad (11-2) will return to the metro area next weekend. Among the Cavemen’s three games is a matchup with La Cueva at 10 a.m. Saturday at Sandia.