ALBUQUERQUE— Everyone knew it was going to happen, we just didn’t know when.
It was supposed to happen in the spring of 2020, but the pandemic squelched that. There was some good news, though, for Rio Rancho High School coach Ron Murphy — he was named the national Coach of the Year by the National Federation of High School Associations,
So, with the high school baseball season and the RRHS 2021 schedule laid out, we could focus on just “when” it would happen.
And it happened Tuesday afternoon at Volcano Vista High School, where RRHS baseball coach won his 582nd career game, surpassing the previous record-holder, John Gutierrez. On May 28, Murphy racked up his record-tying win, a 2-0 shutout of visiting Cleveland, to all but guarantee he’d claim the impressive mark last week — if not against the Hawks, then certainly against the one-win Atrisco Heritage Academy Jaguars the evening of June 4.
Naturally, as he’s been doing since the record got in his sights — or at least those of others cognizant of the record — Murphy, soon to turn 62, continued to downplay the achievement. And he credited the hundreds of players and assistant coaches he’s had in his three-decades career, which began as the head baseball coach at St. Pius X in 1991, ending after the Sartans lost the ’97 championship game. Murphy’s record at SPX was 117-42.
In 1998, he coached his first game for the Rams — and he’s been at it ever since, winning state championships in 2007, ’09 and ’13.
But, obviously, a coach cannot win a game by himself; he needs players who can — quoting a line from the movie “Bull Durham”: “You throw the ball; you hit the ball; you catch the ball.”
“They’re the ones who broke the record, not me … all the alumni we’ve had, the kids that are playing now, the parents,” he said. “(The record) was in the back of my mind. All I really cared about was our kids, right now, in the moment. I didn’t want to take the attention away from them — a lot of people were trying to put the attention on me, and I was trying to deflect it.
“The game’s about kids, and that’s why we do this — for kids,” he said. “I’ll enjoy this for five minutes; I’ll go home … be excited how my kids played and then we’ll get ready for our next game tomorrow.”
So, no celebratory dinner out with his wife, Minerva? No sip of champagne? No puffs on a stogie?
Don’t even think it: “I have no plans to celebrate,” Murphy said. “Maybe when the season’s over, but it’s still about the kids right now. I teach them that the team always comes first and it’s the same with this award.”
There’s no timetable for when his coaching days will end, thus the record should easily surpass 600 career wins in 2022 and, although Murphy had the pleasure of coaching his son Tyler, a senior this year, his grandson, Jaedyn Martinez, is only 10 and shows promise for 3-5 varsity seasons playing for his grandpa.
“Jaedyn says I have to wait till he gets here,” Grandpa said. “He loves the game and I love being around him, so I don’t know how long I can go. As long as my health holds up, I don’t think I could ever quit.”
So figure eight more seasons at least, and with a minimum of 15 wins a season, right around 700 wins when he finally hangs up his No. 35 Rams jersey.
Rams 21, Volcano Vista 3: Believe it or not, this was shaping up to be a real good ballgame, played under sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s.
The host Hawks (9-5, 3-1) grabbed a 2-0 lead when shortstop Jack Kolich followed a walk issued to Antonio Leger with a blast over the fence in left field in the first inning.
No problem. A walk to Rams shortstop Garrett Rede, a one-out single by designated-hitter Elijah Castañeda and a single by first baseman Payne Kent loaded the bases.
Colt Uphold stroked a two-run double and the game was knotted at 2.
It didn’t stay knotted for long, nor did it resemble a ballgame between two of the state’s perennial powerhouses in the third, when the Rams banged out six straight hits, including a two-run double by Rede, scoring five times.
The Hawks plated a run off Stuart Smith (4-0) in the bottom of the third for a 7-3 Rams lead. But no Hawk got beyond first base after that, as Smith scattered five hits off his 88 pitches, struck out four and had flawless play from his defense.
After a scoreless fourth and a solo run tacked on by the Rams in the fifth, Rio Rancho sent 17 batters to the plate in the sixth, scoring 13 runs, and ending it after a four-up, three-down bottom of the sixth.
Rede had the biggest hit of the frame, a three-run homer, and Castañeda had a two-run triple and a solo homer; pinch-hitter Kai Fitek stroked a two-run double.
Castañeda — a double short of hitting for the cycle — and Kent led the hit parade, each going 4 for 5 and combining for six RBIs. Tyler Murphy, Rede (with six RBIs) and Uphold had three hits apiece.
How did Murphy explain the offensive surge?
“Our kids were just on today,” he said. “Sometimes you’re on, sometimes you’re off and sometimes you’re indifferent. We were on today; the kids just kinda felt it.
“Stuart did a good job of recovering after that two-run homer,” he added.
Rams 9, Atrisco Heritage 0: On Friday evening, sophomore Seth Lee (1-0) gave up a leadoff single, then settled down, yielding just two more hits as the Rams (16-0, 5-0) racked up their sixth shutout of the season, handing the Jaguars (1-14, 0-5) their 14th loss in a row.
Casados and Murphy had two hits apiece and combined for three RBIs; Castañeda had just one hit but drove in three teammates.
A five-run fourth inning, when the Rams sent 11 batters to the plate, helped them pull away from what had been a 3-0 lead after three innings.
Before the game, Rio Rancho Public Schools, the New Mexico Activities Association and the New Mexico High School Coaches Association honored Murphy for his state-record win three days earlier.
The game also had a 36-minute lightning delay in the third inning.
RRHS plays twice this week: On Wednesday, they visit Capital High in Santa Fe; on Friday at 6 p.m., Cibola High visits.