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Class 6A baseball: La Cueva, Piedra Vista to meet again, this time in championship game

They were scrimmage partners in February.

It will be just slightly more formal than that tonight.

While this won’t be a 1-2 matchup on paper, it certainly has the air of one as top-seeded La Cueva and third-seeded Piedra Vista each posted six-run victories on Friday at Isotopes Park in the semifinals of the Class 6A state baseball tournament.

The Bears (26-3) and Panthers (23-7) are to collide at 6 p.m. today at Isotopes Park.

No. 1 LA CUEVA 9, No. 5 CARLSBAD 3: The Bears’ semifinal was, by far, the more pressure-packed of the two. It was a 3-3 game into the sixth when La Cueva started a two-out rally.

Dawson Burton walked and Ryan Ramos reached on an infield single to deep short before leadoff batter Jack Pineda stepped into the box. He was 0-for-3 to that point as the Cavemen worked him with a variety of off-speed pitches. But reliever Will Garza fed Pineda a fastball, which he drove the opposite way to left field for an RBI single that put La Cueva in front 4-3.

“If I can do something right,” Pineda said with a smile, “that had to be it. They did a good job of pitching to me today.”

La Cueva piled on in the seventh with five additional runs. Catcher Bryce Richardson had the most important swing, a two-run single up the middle for a 6-3 advantage.

“I was just trying to get a ball in play and score a run,” Richardson said.

“It was a tough at-bat,” Bears coach Gerard Pineda said. “The at-bat before that, he chased a pitch out of the zone, and for him to wash that away showed a lot of maturity.”

Ramos added a two-run single three batters later.

Carlsbad (23-8) was not without chances. The Cavemen stranded a runner in scoring position in each of the first four innings.

In the fifth, Carlsbad squandered a leadoff single and wild pitch. La Cueva threw that runner out at third on a ground ball to Bears second baseman Austin Schlagel, and another Cavemen runner was caught stealing moments later.

La Cueva scored two in the first and another in the third, with Ben Schoneman driving in a run in both those innings for a 3-1 lead.

Nate Arrington of Carlsbad tied the game 3-3 in the fourth with a two-out, two-run double to center that was very nearly caught by a diving Ryan Johnson.

No. 3 PIEDRA VISTA 8, No. 7 RIO RANCHO 2: Nearly everything that might have, or could have, gone wrong for the Rams, in fact did go wrong.

Sometimes very wrong.

“You hit the nail on the head,” Rams coach Ron Murphy said. “But that’s baseball. You’ve got to roll with the punches and hope you recover. And we weren’t able to do that.”

But this was equally true: Rio Rancho was outplayed by Piedra Vista, which rode a five-run fourth inning and a workmanlike outing from starting pitcher Nate Swarts into the title game.

Six Panthers drove in a run, including Swarts who had two RBIs.

“We got the big hits when we needed to,” Swarts said. “One through nine, we fight at the plate.”

And while the junior right-hander (10-0) maybe didn’t have his best stuff, he still supplied six efficient innings, surrendering nine hits to a district rival.

“I’m proud of Nate for competing,” Piedra Vista coach Mike McGaha said. “He did not pitch his best game today.”

Meanwhile, for Rio Rancho (19-12), it was a frustrating couple of hours. An outfielder misplayed two fly balls that appeared to be lost in the sun. An indecisive base runner was thrown out at third base.

Perhaps most memorably, designated hitter Diego Rael, with runners at second and third in the second inning, hit a bullet up the middle. The ball ripped the glove off of Swarts’ left hand. The ball fell off to the right of the mound; Swarts picked up the ball off the grass and threw Rael out.

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