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Prep baseball: La Cueva rolls past Rio Rancho in Metro finals

Perhaps the thing that ought to have everybody most concerned about the La Cueva baseball team is how easy the Bears are making things look this season.

Tournament titles don’t take on much more of a relaxed feel than they did Saturday afternoon for the Bears, who won the Albuquerque Metro Championships with a routine 5-2 victory over Rio Rancho at Santa Ana Star Field.

Just as noteworthy was how No. 1 seed La Cueva (8-1) absorbed this result — especially a win against an opponent that, remarkably, started five freshmen Saturday.

“I really think we’re just dreaming of winning state,” said Bears third baseman Richard Ware, who drove in a pair of runs. “That’s our main concern, and our main goal.”

La Cueva’s Travis Handler watches the action through his paper-cup binoculars from the dugout. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

La Cueva’s Travis Handler watches the action through his paper-cup binoculars from the dugout. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

With pitching and defense spearheading the way, La Cueva has outscored its opponents 116-9.

“We believe our pitching staff can beat anybody in the state,” senior Jonathan Stroman said.

The Bears staked Stroman (3-0) to a three-run lead after two innings. Because of the quality of La Cueva’s pitching depth, the Bears had the luxury of holding him in reserve until Saturday. Stroman tossed a complete-game three-hitter, striking out six and walking three. A stellar La Cueva defense turned three double plays.

“Stroman is a special (player), because of his velocity, and because he was able to throw a secondary pitch (for strikes),” La Cueva assistant coach Ronnie Meng said. “Part of that comes from the success our defense has had all year. That’s made a big difference in our pitching staff.”

Second-seeded Rio Rancho (11-3) scored relatively meaningless single runs in the sixth and seventh innings, but never threatened La Cueva’s lead.

“Once you get a run on the board, it’s easier to pitch, and with the defense I have,” Stroman said, “it’s a lot more comfortable.”

La Cueva chased Rams starter Chris Padilla early.

Ryan Johnson tripled to left-center with one out in the bottom of the first, with Ware’s bloop double scoring Johnson moments later. Padilla lasted only five batters.

Rams reliever Julian Tidwell escaped further damage in the first, but the Bears padded their lead in the second inning as Tidwell had control issues. A wild pitch scored a run, and Tidwell also issued a bases-loaded walk to Ware for a 3-0 lead.

Johnson’s RBI single in the fourth scored Jack Pineda for a 4-0 lead, and Phoenix Autrey’s sacrifice fly in the sixth gave the Bears a 5-1 cushion.

La Cueva coach Gerard Pineda was ejected in the top of the seventh. He’ll have to miss Tuesday’s game at Volcano Vista.

LA CUEVA 5, RIO RANCHO 2

Rio Rancho    000  001  1  —  2   3  0

La Cueva        120  101  x   — 5   7  1

Pitching: RR, Chris Padilla, Julian Tidwell (1), Andrew Duran (6) and Clayton Kempski. LC, Jonathan Stroman and Phoenix Autrey. Win: Stroman (3-0). Loss: Padilla. Leading hitters: RR, Garrett Gouldsmith 1-3, 3B, R.  LC, Richard Ware 2-2, 2 2B, 2RBIs; Ryan Johnson 2-3, 3B, RBI. Records: LC 8-1; RR 11-3.

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