The La Cueva baseball season has been defined by one-sided games, a lengthy winning streak and multiple national rankings.
But it will also be measured most of all by the program’s latest state championship.
“Usually,” Bears coach Gerard Pineda said, “you only remember the team that wins the last game.”
La Cueva got into Cleveland’s bullpen and turned a close game into something far more comfortable, and the top-seeded Bears locked down the Class 6A title Saturday night with a 10-4 victory over No. 2 Cleveland before a crowd of about 2,500 fans at Isotopes Park.
It is the first blue trophy for La Cueva since 2014 and the fourth for the Bears under Pineda.
This marked La Cueva’s fifth championship in the last 10 seasons.
La Cueva had to win multiple ways this week, but as was the case in the regular season, no one could solve this powerhouse Bears puzzle.
“We’ve talked a lot about adversity,” Pineda said. “And how to deal with it.”
A tense 1-0 victory Thursday night over Rio Rancho was followed Friday night by a game the Bears had to pull out in the seventh inning against defending state champion Carlsbad.
Saturday night, La Cueva dipped into its bullpen early in the game, which was a rarity.
But senior Wes Alexanderson (5-0) gave the Bears 4⅔ stellar innings after starter Devin Borin was unable to find the plate in his erratic 1⅔ innings of work.
“We held him back specifically for that reason,” Pineda said. “It was a nice card to play.”
“He’s been great for us all year,” La Cueva senior center fielder Ryan Phillips said of Alexanderson.
Phillips eventually came on to get the last two outs of the game in the bottom of the seventh, but the night mostly belonged to Alexanderson, who received a rousing standing ovation when he left the game.
“I was prepared,” Alexanderson said. “I came out ready. I came out of the bullpen looking to face some good hitters.”
La Cueva lost its season opener, in late February, to Valley. Then the Bears (28-1) rattled off 28 straight wins to close the season.
“We stand as a team,” Phillips said. “The past 28 games has been a fun ride.”
The Bears had national rankings in no fewer than three places, while Cleveland (24-8) was making its first state championship game appearance.
“We fought to the very end, and that’s what we do,” Storm coach Shane Shallenberger said. “And that’s what makes me most proud.”
The Storm had the game’s first run, with Treston Shallenberger’s sacrifice fly scoring Avry Ybarra. It was the first deficit the Bears have faced this postseason.
La Cueva scored twice in the top of the second, with Phoenix Autrey’s sacrifice fly and Austin Schlagel’s suicide squeeze bunt making it 2-1. The Storm scored a run on a wild pitch in the bottom half, but then La Cueva scored the next eight runs.
The Bears scored on a Cleveland throwing error in the third for a 3-2 lead. Isaac Standridge, who had four of La Cueva’s 14 hits, added a two-run triple to right in the fifth for a 5-2 advantage.
By then, the Storm already was dipping into its bullpen.
“That was the game plan,” Pineda said. “To get into their pen. And then get deeper into their pen.”
Leading 5-2 in the sixth, La Cueva put the game away with five runs. Ryan Johnson hit a two-run double to right, Phillips had an RBI single and Chris Campbell added a sac fly. Another run scored on a wild pitch.
No. 1 LA CUEVA 10,
No. 2 CLEVELAND 4
La Cueva 021 025 0 — 10 14 1
Cleveland 110 001 1 — 4 7 2
Pitching: LC, Devin Borin, Wes Alexanderson (2), Ryan Phillips (7) and Phoenix Autrey. C, Jared Silva, Josh Chapman (4), Ryan Kraft (5), Damien Roddy (6) and Robert Healy. Win: Alexanderson (5-0). Loss: Silva. Leading hitters: LC, Isaac Standridge 4-4, 3B, 2RBIs; Richard Ware 2-3, 2B, 3B; Ryan Phillips 2-3, 3R; Austin Schlagel 3-3, RBI. C, Healy 2-3. Records: LC 28-1; C 24-8.