State baseball championship No. 10 for La Cueva proved to be one of the most anticlimactic for the state’s pre-eminent program, as the top-seeded Bears shredded third-seeded Piedra Vista 14-3 in five innings in the Class 6A final Saturday night at Isotopes Park.
“This group, everyone, we’re all brothers here,” said La Cueva senior center fielder Ryan Johnson. “The team chemistry was 110 percent. Last year, we were probably more talented than this team, but the brotherhood of this team carried us over the top.”
All of La Cueva’s state titles have been won between 2003 and Saturday night.
The Bears (27-3) batted around twice and had a pair of six-run outbursts against the Panthers (23-8), and five La Cueva starters had multiple-hit games.
“Our whole mindset was never take the foot off their throat,” said senior third baseman Hunter Straub, who had three hits and three RBIs for La Cueva in the victory, played before a crowd of about 2,500 fans. “If you let off the gas, you can get beat.”
The Bears for the second straight year wore Goddard-esque blue jerseys in the state final, and they apparently bring them good fortune.
“It’s even better than last year,” said Bears ace pitcher, junior Ben Schoneman, whose offensive contributions this season often went overlooked. He drove in a pair of runs Saturday night. “Going back-to-back is even better.”
With both teams having burned their top two arms in the previous two rounds, it was La Cueva’s No. 3, senior Chad Kerschen (3-1), who fared best. He scattered four hits.
“Chad did a hell of a job,” Schoneman said.
“Pitching,” added Johnson, “was a question mark at the beginning of the season, but our pitching staff has been absolutely stellar.”
La Cueva coach Gerard Pineda informed Kerschen of his starting assignment on Friday night.
“I felt really good about it last night when we told him,” Pineda said. “The look on his face when we told him put me at ease.”
Kerschen’s offense eased his — well, everyone’s — burden considerably, starting with a six-run second inning as La Cueva sent 10 batters to the plate. Five players drove in a run, and a sixth scored on a Piedra Vista throwing error.
The Panthers touched up Kerschen for two runs in the bottom of the third, including an RBI triple from Deylan Pigford, but in the next half inning La Cueva went out and tacked on six more runs.
Designated hitter Phoenix Autrey scored two runs on a single during that rally.
“We were confident,” said La Cueva senior left fielder Ryan Ramos, who drove in two runs in Friday’s semifinals and two more Saturday night from the No. 9 spot in the order. “We’ve been here before, we knew what was at stake and we knew if we played our best baseball, we would win.”
Piedra Vista has a handful of state championships in New Mexico’s second-largest division, but this was the program’s first appearance in a big-school final. The Panthers — in their most lopsided loss of the season — were overwhelmed by La Cueva’s bats on this night, as the Bears roughed up starter Jarrett Graham and a couple of relievers as well.
“When you get down into the bottom of your pitching rotation, the problem isn’t about their talent,” Piedra Vista coach Mike McGaha said. “The problem is lack of volume (in big-game situations).”
NOTES: Next year, La Cueva and Piedra Vista will be district partners in a league that also includes Eldorado, Farmington and West Mesa. … This was Pineda’s fifth championship as La Cueva’s coach, and the last two came with son Jack, the Bears’ stellar senior shortstop, at his side. For McGaha, he coached his son Cody for the final time. “It was a very emotional day,” Gerard Pineda said. “For coach McGaha, too.”
Class 6A Championship
Saturday — Isotopes Park
No. 1 LA CUEVA 14, No. 3 PIEDRA VISTA 3 (5)
La Cueva 060 62 — 14 13 0
Piedra Vista 002 01 — 3 4 2
Batteries: LC, Chad Kerschen and Bryce Richardson. PV, Jarrett Graham, Alex Kuhn (2), Deylan Pigford (4), Isaiah Gamboa (5) and Trent Kiraly. Win: Kerschen (3-1). Loss: Graham. Leading hitters: PV, Pigford 1-3, 3B, RBI; Gamboa 1-1, 3B, 2R. LC, Hunter Straub 3-4, 3RBIs; Ben Schoneman 2-4, 2B, 2RBIs; Ryan Ramos 2-2, 2RBIs; Jack Pineda 2-4, 2B, 2RBIs; Richardson 2-3, RBI. Records: LC 27-3; PV 23-8.