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Raton has reason to celebrate

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RIO RANCHO – It was a happy 18th birthday for sixth-seeded Raton High School starter Cam Baird, who chucked a 6-hit shutout against St. Michael’s on Thursday, eliminating the Horsemen and sending the Tigers to the Class 3A semifinals for the first time since it won the state championship in 2011.

Baird had 10 strikeouts and pitched out of several jams as No. 3 St. Mike’s left runner’s in scoring position in four different innings in a 3-0 win.

“We’ve been riding Cam’s back for awhile now,” said Raton coach Michael Marez. “When you have a horse like that you stand a good chance of winning any game he’s on the mound. That’s what happened (Thursday).”

Pitching on his birthday in the state tournament against University of New Mexico signee Matt Smallwood created a perfect situation, Baird said.

“All of the above,” Baird said in explaining his performance. “Smallwood is a great pitcher. We’ve had a rivalry since about sophomore year. He committed to UNM so the rivalry built up.”

Smallwood also turned in an impressive performance with a complete game, allowing just four hits while striking out 13 Tigers (21-9).

“Cam Baird came out and showed why he is the ace of their team,” Smallwood said. “You can look at the stats. He struck out what, 10, 11 of our batters? Although we were able to get more hits than them, they had them in the key situations and I feel like that’s why they won the game.”

The key situation came in the top of the first, when Raton bunched two of those hits to score two runs.

After Ethan Washburn singled to open the game, Marez sent him on an hit-and-run with one out. And Caleb Wood drilled a liner to the left-center gap, scoring Washburn. Wood later scored on Baird’s ground out.

“Two runs in high school is really not that many runs,” said Horsemen coach David Vigil. “We’ve scored more than that on numerous occasions. But just like that off of your best pitcher, it deflates your bubble a little bit. The hard part is just keeping your kids pumped and letting them know that they can come back and hit.”

Spirits in the dugout remained high, Smallwood said, but getting that key hit eluded the Horsemen (20-9).

Raton second baseman Dante Mileta, left, reaches for the baseball but is too late to tag out Jeremy Trujillo of St. Michael’s during Thursday’s game. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Raton second baseman Dante Mileta, left, reaches for the baseball but is too late to tag out Jeremy Trujillo of St. Michael’s during Thursday’s game. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

“It’s always tough getting jumped on straight away,” he said. “I felt like even though it happened, the mood in the dugout, the tone, didn’t change at all. We still had a very energetic and electric dugout.”

St. Mike’s best chance to score came in the third after Mikey Rivera doubled with one out — one of his three hits. He moved over on a wild pitch. After a walk put runners on the corners, Smallwood popped up.

But catcher Josh Castaneda hit a slow looper that Raton third basemen Martin Ortiz just missed with diving attempt. But shortstop Washburn was able to get there and make a quick throw to nab Castaneda.

“That was a big one for us, Ethan Washburn,” Marez said. “If you watch that young guy, he’s getting better and better at shortstop all the time. He can get rid of the ball in a hurry with a lot of velocity. And that came in handy right there.”

That turned out to be a pivotal play, Vigil said.

“That would have been big,” he said. “I actually thought that ball was going to sneak through. That shortstop actually made a pretty good play on that ball. That one hurt. I actually thought it was going to scoot through and that would have been big. Got a run, would have been down 2-1. It hurts.”

Raton advances to meet No. 2 Sandia Prep today at 3 p.m. at Lobo Field.

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