You’d get a pretty strong consensus around New Mexico that Cleveland’s day in the sun is coming.
But it wasn’t Saturday.
This day, and this sun, belonged to Volcano Vista.
The Hawks’ top-seeded baseball team completed a fantastic 2019 season on a picture-perfect afternoon at Isotopes Park, as Volcano Vista claimed the Class 5A state championship, 7-5 over the third-seeded Storm.
“It means a lot to me,” said Volcano Vista coach Kevin Andersh, who previously won four rings as an assistant coach to Jim Johns at Eldorado from 1996-2003. “Every coach does not feel validation unless you get that big prize. … This is probably the happiest day of my life.”
This was the program’s first blue trophy. It lost in the finals in 2011 and 2015. And Volcano Vista became the first school other than Eldorado, Rio Rancho, Farmington, Carlsbad or La Cueva to win the big-school title since Highland did so in 1987. Until Saturday.
This was the program’s first blue trophy. It lost in the finals in 2011 and 2015.
“We’ve been talking about it all year,” said junior right fielder Isaiah Ural, who delivered the most important hit of the final — and the season — with a go-ahead, two-RBI single in the fourth inning. “Chasing the trophy, getting that first win for Volcano Vista, the emotions are through the roof.”
The Hawks (25-5) used a four-run fourth to lead 6-4, then held off one of the best offenses in 5A for the final few, tension-filled innings.
“(Cleveland) is a really good hitting team,” said Volcano Vista starting pitcher, senior Ryan Curran, who is signed to play for Coastal Carolina. “They rival us in hitting. To be able to shut down that good of a hitting team … .”
The Storm (25-5) only managed three hits off Curran and reliever Damien Griego, but Cleveland had a plethora of base runners (including seven hit batters and seven walks) throughout. Curran’s lively fastball — “my velocity felt the best it’s felt in my entire life,” he said — contributed heavily to eight strikeouts.
But Curran’s control issues early on were problematic; he walked six in the first two innings alone. All four batters he walked in the second inning eventually scored as Cleveland answered two Volcano Vista runs in the top of the inning with four in the bottom half.
Roy Jennings had the first Cleveland hit, a two-RBI single that put the Storm in front 3-2.
In the top of the fourth, the Hawks chased Storm starter Ethan Collins, but not before taking the lead back. Diego Cortes was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to cut the deficit to 4-3. Ural followed with his clutch single.
After Damien Roddy relieved for the Storm, Curran lifted a sacrifice fly to score the fourth run of the inning.
It remained 6-4 until the bottom of the sixth, when the Storm loaded the bases with one out against Griego. Curran made a terrific running catch on Christian Hoffman’s fly ball to left-center; the sacrifice fly plated a fifth run for Cleveland.
Griego induced Isaac Toledo to line out softly to second base to end that threat.
A throwing error led to Volcano Vista’s insurance run in the top of the seventh, as Curran led off by doubling before scoring.
And in the bottom of the seventh, Griego retired Cleveland in order, with the delirious Hawks sprinting out to the mound to celebrate after Ryan Marez struck out to end the game.
“That’s kind of my role,” Griego said. “The high-pressure bullpen situation.”
Griego also delivered two hits from the 9 hole; Andersh had used the designated hitter for Griego all season until this week. But Griego, even with limited at-bats — 10 for the season, Andersh estimated — came up with four hits and three RBIs this week.
“It’s incredible,” Griego said amidst the celebrating. “We came into the year with really high expectations. But this is unbelievable.”
Said Curran: “Every game, we knew we were better than the other team on paper. To be able to show that, it’s amazing.”
VOLCANO VISTA 7, CLEVELAND 5
Volcano Vista 020 400 1 — 7 9 1
Cleveland 040 001 0 — 5 3 3
Batteries: VV, Ryan Curran, Damien Griego (6) and Ryan Gonzales. C, Ethan Collins, Damien Roddy (4) and Isaac Toledo. Win: Curran (5-1). Loss: Collins. Save: Griego (2). Leading hitters: C, Colten Madison 2R; Roy Jennings 1-3, 2RBIs. VV, Isaiah Ural 2-4, 2RBIs; Griego 2-4; Tyler Campbell 2-4. Records: VV 25-5; C 25-5.