Rams conquer Carlsbad and take home the softball crown

Rams senior shortstop Briana Martinez, planning to play the next four seasons on this diamond (Lobo Field) socked a three-run homer in the fourth inning of the championship game last Saturday.
(Gary Herron/Rio Rancho Observer)

ALBUQUERQUE — Kristin Griego Memorial Tournament champs. APS metro champions. District 1-5A champions. No. 1 Class 5A team all season.

Wasn’t that enough?

Nope, not for Rio Rancho High School softball coach Paul Kohman and his Rams.

Rio Rancho (28-3) put the finishing touches on its run to the Class 5A softball crown Saturday afternoon at Lobo Field, where junior infielder Brianna Gallegos’s sixth-inning grand slam ended the game via the mercy rule, with the No. 1 Rams beating No. 2 Carlsbad, 14-4.

“It was pretty fun,” Gallegos beamed after the season’s final runs were scored.

It was the second mercy-rule win over the Cavegirls in as many days, as the Rams had gotten grand slams from Kendra Levesque and Jessie Garcia during Friday’s 16-2 trouncing of the Cavegirls in a semifinal game, when Rylee Campbell went the distance in the circle.

That meant the Cavegirls had to drop into the losers’ bracket and hope to get to beat the Rams at Lobo Field at noon, setting up an “if necessary” game in the double-elimination tournament. It was not to be, as Gallegos saw to it, hitting her 19th homer of the season, which ties her with former Cibola slugger Val Swedberg for the state record.

The Rams spotted Carlsbad a 3-0 lead in the second inning, then took the lead with five runs in the third and all but put it out of reach with a four-run fourth, when Briana Martinez socked a three-run homer.

Carlsbad managed only one run the rest of the way, trailing 9-4 as the Rams came to the plate in their half of the sixth.

Levesque was intentionally walked and Garcia singled to right. Kionna King plated Levesque with an RBI double. Gabby McCoy drew a walk, loading the bases.

After Madison Begaye and Labraida Tenorio went down on strikes, Gallegos hit the first pitch she saw to right field, easily clearing the 205-foot sign.

So much for that old chestnut, “It’s hard to beat a team three times in the same season.” The Rams did that in the postseason, claiming their third win over Piedra Vista in the quarterfinals and then two more wins over Carlsbad, the team they beat for the Griego title in late March.

The 28 wins matches the team’s victories in 2014, when it won its second state championship; the Rams’ first title came in 2003 on the Field of Dreams in Las Cruces, and the Rams repeated as state champs in 2015.

“These kids have just done a phenomenal job,” Kohman said. “They’ve done everything that we pretty much asked them to do. They made adjustments when we told them they had to in order for us to win ballgames.”

He pointed to back-to-back district losses to Cibola and Cleveland: “We were zombies; that was not us,” he said.

Gallegos, who has verbally committed to New Mexico State University, said, “It’s just been amazing, having such a great family — the team.

“It’s the greatest feeling — being able to share it with every single person who plays it with me today and every day,” she said. “We always try to do our best with everything we do. …We have never taken a team lightly. We know better than that.”

Next year, Kohman said, “We lose three very good seniors (Martinez; McCoy, who will play at Eastern New Mexico, and Alecca Klovenas). We have to replace the kids that we’re missing, but just the overall work ethic that we ask the kids to have, we’re going to be a very good team next season.

“I hate being No. 1 early in the year — it means nothing. This is what matters, what happens right here,” Kohman concluded.