For 23 innings of baseball over 52-plus hours, the Carlsbad Cavemen walked a razor-thin tightrope.
On Thursday, they twice were down to their final strike against Eldorado. Friday, the Cavemen spotted Volcano Vista a five-run lead.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Carlsbad was face to face with the force-of-nature Rio Rancho Rams.
But, after three exhausting but ultimately exhilirating days, the high-wire act of No. 2 seed Carlsbad produced a Class 6A title Saturday afternoon at Isotopes Park, as the Cavemen scored runs in the first and ninth innings for a white-knuckle, 2-1 victory over No. 1 Rio Rancho.
“We’re all drained,” Carlsbad coach Cody May said after the Cavemen’s first title since 2012. “I can tell you that much.”
Many of the 2,500 fans at Isotopes Park might have echoed that sentiment after this emotionally charged, extra-inning thriller. It was the lowest-scoring big-school final since Carlsbad beat Valley 2-0 in 1988 and was the first 2-1 final since Mayfield beat Hobbs by that score in 1981.
In the end, Josh Chavarria’s sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth scored Seth Olguin, who had tripled, for the game-winning Carlsbad run.
And Chavarria, on to pitch in relief less than 24 hours removed from his complete-game victory in the semifinals, wriggled out of a jam in the bottom half.
“A great group of guys. We’re very blessed,” Chavarria said, adding that he couldn’t feel his right arm. It was dead, he said.
“I knew I’d have to suck it up,” he said.
The Rams (25-6) got two runners on in the bottom of the ninth before Chavarria struck out Wille Baez to end the game.
The bottom of the seventh proved to be the swing point for both teams.
Carlsbad junior left-hander Trevor Rogers, by the official scorer’s count, was over 140 pitches on Thursday in the Cavemen’s dramatic quarterfinal win over Eldorado. He was brought into Saturday’s game in the fourth inning. And he was still out there in the seventh, when he opened by walking back-to-back Ram hitters in a 1-1 deadlock.
With the bases loaded and one out, Zach Bravo was at-bat for the Rams. Rio Rancho, to no one’s surprise, tried to suicide squeeze home the winning run.
Carlsbad (25-6) was waiting.
“I had an idea it was coming,” Rogers said. He, third baseman Olguin and catcher Eric Hernandez all said they recognized it, and Rogers threw a pitch to the left-handed hitting Bravo two feet off the plate.
“I saw him square around, and I saw that guy coming, and my instincts kicked in,” Rogers said of the single most important pitch he threw all week. “I threw it outside and he missed.”
Bravo didn’t get a bat on it, and the runner at third, Jacob Cook, was caught between home and third. He was tagged out. Rogers then struck out Bravo to send the game to extra innings.
In the top of the ninth, Olguin led off against Ram starter Bravo (4-2) with a 400-foot triple to center. Bravo – who was Friday’s hero against Cleveland with the game-winning hit – left a fastball out over the plate. It was one of the rare mistakes he made on a day when he was otherwise outstanding.
Nate Arrington pitched the first three for Carlsbad. Though Arrington struck out the last two batters he faced in the third, he gave way to Rogers in the fourth.
“That was the plan from the get-go,” Arrington said. “The difference in speed from me to Trevor is really hard to catch up to.”
The Cavemen were ahead 1-0 because of a first-inning RBI fielder’s choice ground ball by the 6-foot-6 Rogers.
He ended up pitching five innings, through the eighth, before he was forced to come out because he reached his ceiling for innings (12) in this tournament.
“My arm didn’t feel too bad,” Rogers said. “It was the state championship. I was giving it all I got.”
Fernando Jara of the Rams touched up Rogers for a two-out RBI single to center in the bottom of the sixth that tied the game 1-all. But Rogers (10-1), who is going to be a hot commodity next season, got the victory.
Rio Rancho had been 3-0 in the finals before Saturday. Carlsbad also denied Rio Rancho coach Ron Murphy his 500th career victory.
“We came a long way,” Olguin said. “It’s the best feeling in the world.”