Rams baseball team off to best start in history, 7-0

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Off to its best start since 2001, before the bulk of this year’s players were born, the Rio Rancho High School baseball team followed up its five-win trip to El Paso with back-to-back home wins on its own diamond.

The Rams made what has become their annual start of the season in El Paso for the Socorro Independent School District Tournament, where they usually lose a game or three. This time was different for two reasons: Coach Ron Murphy basically didn’t have a lot of experienced varsity players and the Rams won all five games, although Murphy said the fifth game was so mismatched that he played junior varsity players in most of it.

“The biggest surprise was we went down there with seven varsity players,” Murphy said, chuckling. “We wrote the lineup and realized we’re basically playing with seven varsity players right now: Andrew Duran was a pitcher only; Alec Stanfield was a pitcher only. And all of a sudden, now they’re in the lineup.

“We had a couple of older guys who decided not to play — they had other interests,” he said. “They left a couple weeks ago when they realized they’re not going to be starters. And we had one suspended for breaking school rules, for 45 days, so he’s out till almost April.”

It seemed like everyone that rode the bus and suited up for the five games in El Paso had a highlight or two.

The Rams’ five wins, in order, were over Franklin (8-7), Socorro (12-1), Lubbock (3-0), Americas (2-1) and Parkland (15-3).

Murphy said the Rams scored eight runs in the first inning of that final game, when he replaced his varsity players with JV kids.

“I’m not gonna lie; I feel we have a solid seven,” Murphy said. “And there’s some years when you have 15 guys on the bench and you may have a ‘solid’ five. I feel real good about this group of guys.”

And, he added, “We feel like we have four good pitchers.”

That quartet is made up of seniors Duran, Justin Baron, Hudson White and Stanfield, a junior. “I need to get all four of those guys time on the mound, which is going to be hard, especially when we get out of the (early) tournaments.”

Rams 3, Sandia 2: The home debut on March 1 was played in a mere 1:25, thanks to the efficiency of Duran (2-0), who scattered four hits and struck out six.

The Rams took a 2-0 lead in the second on back-to-back singles by Clayton Kempski and Noah Brewer and a double to dead center, smacking off the wall, by Mitchell Winter, which plated both runs. Winter finished the day with a team-high three hits and two RBIs.

The Matadors came back with a pair of unearned runs in the third, which began after an error with one out by shortstop Ethan Silcox.

Rio Rancho scored the game’s final run in the fourth, when Silcox walked, went to second on an infield single by Jacob Braunschweiger and headed to third on a throwing error by the Matadors’ catcher; Kempski’s sacrifice fly sent Silcox home.

Duran slammed the door on the Matador bats the rest of the way, retiring Sandia in order in the fourth, fifth and sixth before allowing a one-out walk and single in the seventh. He then fanned a batter and got the last out of the game on a ground ball to first base.

Rams 8, Manzano 0: Last Tuesday, on a nice day for a pre-spring ballgame, Baron (2-0) worked out of jams in the second and third innings, when the Monarchs left the bases loaded and two runs aboard, respectively, and then got the second and third outs of the fourth inning, when MHS stranded a runner at third base.

Working the first five frames, Baron gave up five hits and fanned three before Hudson White allowed one hit and struck out three while pitching the final two innings.

The Rams scored the only run they’d need to win when Kevin Pietzrak drew a walk leading off the bottom of the first, went to second on a wild pitch, moved to third on a flyout and plated on a single by Braunschweiger.

The Rams made it 4-0 with three tallies in the third, highlighted by a two-run double by Silcox and an RBI double by Kempski.

The lead grew to 7-0 after another three-run outburst in the fifth on RBI singles by Braunschweiger and Kempski and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Winter.

The Rams’ final run came in the sixth, when DH Josh Clark tripled and came home on a single by Braunschweiger, who led the Rams’ 11-hit attack with three singles and three RBIs. Silcox, Kempski and Clark each had two hits in the shutout.

Rams senior Mitchell Winter has been swinging the bat well so far, and his versatility gives coach Ron Murphy options: play him at first base, put him on the mound, or have him bat in the designated-hitter’s slot.

Extra innings:  The annual Sal Puentes/Rio Rancho Tournament is set for March 28-30 and includes two-time defending big-schools champ La Cueva. The Rams’ opener is the fourth game of the first day of the tourney, a 6:30 contest vs. Hobbs.

… Last Thursday’s game at Rio Grande was postponed due to the high winds; it was re-scheduled for Monday, March 11, at 6 p.m.

… Later this week, the Rams are in Las Cruces for the New Mexico Invitational. The Rams play Oñate on Thursday, Mayfield on Friday and Centennial — a team Murphy says is the best in the south — on Saturday. RRHS has won that tournament the last there years.

… Sandia High baseball coach Chris Eaton said he had fond memories of playing baseball in the Cibola Little League when he was a youngster, and games were played at the long-gone CLL complex on Sundt Road.