Three days after he was foiled by Cibola in his bid for a no-hitter, Cleveland High junior Brandon Larson was all set to be the hero Tuesday in the Storm’s District 1-5A game with visiting Rio Rancho.
Here’s the situation: bottom of the seventh, teams tied at 6, two down and runners on the corners, with Larson at the plate.
Larson (4-3) swung at the first pitch sent his way by Eddy Vasquez — and flew out to right.
“I said after what happened Saturday, not only do you have the chance to get the win on the mound, you’ve got a chance to drive it in,” CHS coach Shane Shallenberger said of Larson’s at-bat with the winning run 90 feet from home.
“If you want to swing at the first pitch, get comfortable … (But) he didn’t get it done.”
No problem: After the Rams (15-6, 3-1) came up with two runs in the top of the eighth; the Storm (14-7, 2-2) took advantage of some uncharacteristic wildness by reliever Eli Cappello to take a rollercoaster of a victory, 9-8.
One batter before Larson’s fly ball, Vince Aragon sent a line drive that seemed headed for left field, but Rams shortstop Marcus Martinez made a “web-gem,” diving catch to keep Riley Peterson from scoring from third base.
Shallenberger said that was almost a double play, and it would have been his fault if the Rams had turned it.
“I was yelling ‘go,’ but Marcus made a heck of a play, you know,” he said.
“It’s one of those games where, honestly, you kind of feel sorry for whoever does lose,” he said. “Both teams played really hard and you saw that on the field today.”
The Storm out-hit the Rams 12-6, but committed seven errors to the Rams’ three. The Rams took a 2-0 lead in the first on an RBI single by Cappello and a suicide squeeze bunt by Angelo Lujan.
The Storm came back with three runs in their half of the first, with one scoring on a passed ball by Rams catcher Chris Carr and the others on a two-run double by Neil Evans.
The Rams tied the game at 3 after Mark Dominguez singled, went to second when starting pitcher Wyatt Kelley reached on an error by Storm third baseman Jorge Guzman, headed to third on a wild pitch from CHS starter Royce Cleveland, and scored on Vic Chavez’s groundout.
The Rams made it 5-3 in the third, scoring on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Grant Templin and a sacrifice fly from Jared Winter.
It became 6-3 in the fourth after Chavez reached on an error, went to second on a throwing error by Cleveland, moved to third on a groundout and plated on a wild pitch.
The Storm scored a run in the fourth after Evans’ infield hit, a stolen base, passed ball and rare error by second baseman Cappello.
Vasquez came in to start the fifth on the mound for the Rams, and Cleveland struck for two runs.
Justice Jackson singled, Kyle Anderson walked and Evans’ infield single loaded the bases.
Peterson’s fielder’s choice scored Jackson and Anderson scored when Cappello made a great catch in foul territory on a ball hit by Guzman, but couldn’t get Anderson streaking home after tagging up.
The sixth and seventh innings were scoreless, although both teams had scoring opportunities.
The Rams took an 8-6 lead in the eighth off Evans summoned to relieve Cleveland in the sixth, and three infield errors allowed them to scored two unearned runs. A third run crossed the plate, but the runner was ruled to have departed third base early on a fly ball hit to left by Vasquez.
Down and apparently not out, the Storm sandwiched singles by Kyler Petty and Jackson around a strikeout by pinch-hitter Mikal Rojas, followed by Anderson being hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Cappello relieved Vasquez and fell behind Evans, 2-0, before getting to a full count — and then walking him.
Peterson worked Cappello for a 3-1 count before walking, pushing in the tying run.
Guzman then hit a ball to Martinez, who flipped to Vasquez at second for the force — and second out — but Vasquez couldn’t get a throw off in time to complete a double play and extend the game into the ninth inning.
“What a fantastic, obviously great, ball club — (the Rams had won) 10 in a row — and for us to do that, we kept fighting. That’s the main thing. Every inning, we tried to stay positive,” Shallenberger said.
Extra innings: The Tuesday night win gave the Storm a 9-4 lead all-time against the Rams.
… Coincidentally, Larson opened the season by pitching a scoreless eighth inning against visiting Valencia, then driving in the winning run on an infield single and earning his first victory of the season.
… After each team played a twinbill Saturday — the Rams were at Cibola, the Storm at Volcano Vista — the regular season ends this week: The Rams are at Volcano Vista and the Storm at Cibola on Tuesday, with those games starting at 4 p.m.. The Storm are at RRHS Saturday for two, with the first game starting at 10 a.m.