RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Thanks to their stunning 7-1 victory over two-time defending big-school diamond champ La Cueva last Saturday, the Rio Rancho High School baseball team stepped over the Storm of Cleveland and is the latest No. 1 team in the state.
Rams coach Ron Murphy, who became the state’s second-winningest baseball coach with the victory over the Bears — his 553rd, breaking a tie with longtime Eldorado coach Jim Johns — jokingly said after the game that he hoped his team would be ranked 10th or 11th.
“We’ve never won state as the No. 1 seed,” he said, chuckling.
That, of course, wasn’t about to happen. Going into the last week of March, and the annual Sal Puentes/Rio Rancho Tournament, the top-three teams in Class 5A, in order, were Cleveland, Rio Rancho and La Cueva.
La Cueva scored an unbelievable 15 runs in one inning vs. Cleveland to turn an 8-3 deficit into an 18-8, mercy-rule victory on Friday, and the Rams avenged their city foe’s loss Saturday with their 7-1 win over La Cueva.
Cleveland didn’t fall far — to No. 2 — and the Bears remained third. Of the 18 baseball coaches voting, 11 slotted the Rams (16-2) as No. 1; two each went with No. 2 Cleveland and No. 3 La Cueva, and three coaches slotted No. 4 Volcano Vista as their top team.
It’s no secret that any win over La Cueva is a good win, and so it was last Saturday, especially after that offensive juggernaut the Storm had seen on Friday.
The last time the Rams and Bears met, it had been for all of the proverbial marbles: in the 2017 Class 6A championship game at Isotopes Park, a grueling 1-0 Bears win.
On a windy day, but not as windy as Friday’s ballgames, Alec Stanfield (2-1) kept the Bears’ bats in check, and the Rams sent 11 batters to the plate in the third inning, putting a 6 on the scoreboard.
Two walks and a hit batter aided the cause; Kevin Pietzrak and Noah Brewer had RBI singles, Colt Uphold drove in two runs with a single; Clayton Kempski walked with the bags full and Mitchell Winter was hit by a pitch with the bags loaded.
The Rams scored their final run in the fourth when Pietzrak led off with a bunt single, stole second and plated on a double by Kempski.
After reaching Stanfield for two singles in their first at-bats, the Bears didn’t get another hit until the fifth, when they left the bases loaded. Stanfield sandwiched strikeouts around a groundout in the sixth, and after giving up three straight hits and a run in the seventh, Brewer relieved him.
Brewer’s first pitch hit Dawson Burton in the foot to load the bases. But he got the next three outs on groundball force-outs to end the game.
The Rams out-hit the Bears 7-6; Pietzrak was the only Rio Rancho player with two hits. He also arguably made the defensive play of the game, throwing a Bear out at the plate in the first inning to stem what could have been a big inning.
“To win the game was more important than the tournament win,” Murphy said. “Beating La Cueva, that’s really important for our seeding later on. … I’m proud of the way our kids competed this week.
“We had a lot of mind games going back and forth a little bit, with me and (Gerard) Pineda — he’s a great coach and you gotta stay on top of him or he’ll out-coach you every second,” Murphy said.
“The best part of today’s win, though, to be honest, was giving the Puentes family that trophy … giving that (trophy) to Sal’s grandfather, (who threw out the ceremonial first pitch Saturday).”
Rams 13, Atrisco Heritage 1: On Tuesday, a seven-run second inning at Atrisco Heritage Academy in the South Valley was more than enough to beat the district’s newcomer.
Brewer went 4 for 4 with a pair of doubles, Uphold had three hits in four at-bats and drove in three runs, and Kempski was 2 for 4 with a homer and two RBIs.
Andrew Duran (5-1) got the victory, yanked in the fourth with the outcome no longer in doubt; Hudson White finished the game on the mound.
Extra innings: The Rams have won their tournament six times, earlier recording titles in 2002, ’06, ’08, ’09 and ’14.
… The Rams play at Cibola on Tuesday at 4, and then entertain Cleveland on Friday at 6. The Storm beat the Rams 8-4 on March 23 — RRHS’s only home loss this season — for the APS Metro Championship.
… Commenting on the 1-5A competition, Murphy said, “Every game’s gonna be a battle and the first team we overlook will jump up and get us, so we can’t overlook nobody.”