Class 5A baseball: Rio Rancho triumphantly finishes the title chase - Albuquerque Journal

Class 5A baseball: Rio Rancho triumphantly finishes the title chase

It was apparent, even quite early in this 2023 high school baseball season, who was being chased and who was driving the pursuit vehicles.

The quarry was Rio Rancho.

Staring at their taillights? That would be everyone else.

Nobody caught the Rams.

The state’s best team throughout the spring found official validation of this on Saturday afternoon at Santa Ana Star Field, beating No. 6 seed Centennial 9-6 to capture the Class 5A title.

It is Rio Rancho’s fourth baseball championship and first since 2013.

“This team is so different than the other three,” said Ron Murphy, the only head coach the school has ever had. “These guys … us as coaches had to change our coaching style, (because) they are so loose. Nothing ever bothered them.”

Contenders lined up to shoot their shots. But aside from a 3-2 loss in the regular-season finale to Volcano Vista, No. 1 seed Rio Rancho (27-2-2) stood strong against the top challengers, going a combined 8-1 against the teams seeded 2-6 in the 5A playoffs.

“Man, we’re all just brothers,” said Rams senior second baseman Vascon Smith, who has signed to play at New Mexico and who had a pair of doubles in Saturday’s win. “We just love each other.”

The Hawks (26-5) slugged Rio Rancho in the mouth to open the final, touching up Rams ace Seth Lee for four runs to start the game. LSU signee Steven Milam, who authored an impressive finale to his prep career, scored two with a triple to right-center.

But Rio Rancho is nothing if not an efficient first-inning team. The Rams countered with four runs in the bottom half, keyed by designated hitter Dylan Archuleta’s two-out, two-RBI single.

“Very important,” Archuleta said of Rio Rancho taking back momentum. “That was really the game changer. If we don’t do that, I don’t think we come back and win.”

Third baseman Kai Fitak had RBIs in three at-bats for the Rams on Saturday. His RBI single in the second scored Niko Alcala (who had doubled) for a 5-4 lead. He singled home Alcala (who had doubled again) in the fourth for a 6-4 lead, and he singled home a run in a three-run sixth that essentially put the game away.

“It was great celebrating with my team,” Fitak said. “It was all for them. Everything. All of us, everything we did (was) for each other.”

Most of the Rio Rancho runs were the results of two-out hits.

“It’s been like that all year,” Murphy said. “We seem to play better when our backs are against the wall. I don’t know why, but they do.”

The top four hitters in the Rio Rancho lineup had multiple-hit games.

Milam was sensational for Centennial, which was appearing the state championship game for the first time since 2016 when it won the Class 5A title. There was also a Class 6A that year.

Milam added two doubles to go with his first-inning triple; many believe he’ll be a high draft choice in this summer’s major league draft.

But the Hawks were largely quiet in the middle innings Saturday once Lee shook off a rough first inning. Lee was available because he only threw two innings, and had a low pitch count, in Thursday’s 14-0 quarterfinal win over Rio Grande.

Being able to align his pitching staff, Murphy said, was “huge for us today. We went into that (Rio Grande) game hoping we would stay hot. And our goal was to try to get something on the board early so we could pull Seth and have him today.”

Lee retired nine of his final 10 batters before yielding to Casen Savage, who pitched the final two.


Centennial 400 000 2 — 6 6 2

Rio Rancho 410 103 x — 9 12 1

b C, Kory Gresham, Hudson Harrison (2), Steven Milam (6) and Jason Orgega. RR, Seth Lee, Casen Savage (6) and Josh Boyer. Win: Lee. Loss: Gresham. Leading hitters: Milam 3-3, 3B 2 2B, 2RBIs. RR, Kai Fitak 3-3, 3RBIs; Savage 2-4, RBI; Niko Alcala 2-3, 2 2B, 2R; Vascon Smith 2-4, 2 2B.

2023 Nusenda Credit Union State Baseball Championships 5A


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