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Prep softball: Rams advance unscathed, but not untested

RIO RANCHO — Those who know Rio Rancho softball coach Paul Kohman might say he was downright giddy on Thursday afternoon.

Most wouldn’t know it, but the coach in him got two very positive things out of Thursday’s two Class 5A playoff wins for the No. 1 Rams, who advanced to today’s winner’s bracket semifinals without a loss in tournament play at the Cleveland High School softball complex.

First, the 26-3 Rams are a win away from yet another state championship series.

Second, his usually dominant team needed a pair of one-run wins with poorly-played final innings to get by No. 9 Piedra Vista on Thursday morning, 15-14, with six runs allowed in the final inning, and then No. 13 Hobbs in the afternoon, 5-4, with two runs allowed in the final inning.

It gave him wins and still something to keep his team’s attention moving forward.

“I’m as happy as I can be,” Kohman deadpanned after a lengthy postgame talk with his team.

The reality is, the Rams were, again, rather dominant for the most part. But they did allow their lower-seeded opponents back into games late with uncharacteristic defensive lapses.

“This time of year,” Kohman said, “all that matters is the W. It doesn’t matter how you get there. The game does not remember what you did yesterday.”

But the record books do remember. And junior leadoff hitter Brianna Gallegos is on the brink of etching her name atop as coveted an individual record as one can imagine.

In two games Thursday, the second baseman went 5-for-5 with a home run, a double, five runs, was walked four times and stole a base.

Maybe most notable, her second inning solo shot to center against Hobbs was her 18th home run of the season, tying her with current UNM Lobo and former La Cueva slugger Andrea Howard (2016) for No. 2 in state history. Gallegos is one away from tying Val Swedberg, who hit 19 for Cibola in 2010.

“The good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, she may break the home run record in the next couple days,” Kohman said.

The Rams play No. 2 Carlsbad in today’s semifinals. They beat metro area teams No. 16 Cleveland 16-1 and No. 3 Volcano Vista 10-4 on Thursday.

Class 4A

The black eye paint was running down Alanna Larkins’ cheeks long before she reached second base.

With two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the eight inning on Thursday, the Aztec senior leadoff hitter, who was 0-for-5 at the plate to that point, launched a game-winning three-run homer run to left field for a 10-7 win over No. 2 Los Lunas to advance the No. 3 seed Tigers to today’s winners bracket semifinals.

“I just looked for the perfect pitch and I knew I could drive it out,” Larkins said. “Being 0-2, that was the perfect pitch. I just swung away. I knew as soon as I saw it out of her hands. …

“I rounded first base and I started crying. It was probably the best feeling I had in my whole life.”

Class 3A

No. 3 Tularosa topped No. 4 West Las Vegas, 14-17, to advance without a loss to today’s championship series at the UNM softball complex at noon. The if-necessary game will be at 4 p.m.

The Wildcats (19-5) will play No. 2 Cobre or get a rematch with West Las Vegas.

Class A-2A

Loving (19-6) has won 16 state softball titles, but the blue trophy has eluded the Falcons since 2014.

The way the No. 2 seed has ripped through this year’s field makes it look like they never missed a beat, including an 11-1 win over No. 1 Eunice (23-6) on Thursday to advance to today’s state championship series without a loss.

In four state tournament wins, Loving has outscored opponents 61-3 with Thursday’s 10-run win over Eunice being the closest yet.

Today’s championship series starts at 10 a.m. at UNM’s softball complex.

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