ALBUQUERQUE — Once again for the Portales Rams, it was close but no cigar against District 4-3A rival Lovington.
The No. 1-seeded Wildcats, the only one of the top 10 seeds to reach the semifinals in the 16-team Class 3A baseball tournament, spoiled the Rams’ bid to make it to the championship game for the second time in three years on Friday morning with a come-from-behind 7-6 semifinal win at Isotopes Stadium.
Lovington (21-5) overcame an early five-run deficit, pushing over the winning run against the 12th-seeded Rams (14-13) when Justin Miller hit a one-out double, took third on a fly ball and scored when pinch-hitter Manuel Munoz reached on a third-strike wild pitch.
The Wildcats now face 11th-seeded St. Michael’s in today’s 11 a.m. championship game. The Horsemen got past 15th-seeded Ruidoso 14-4 in Friday’s second semifinal.
“We’ve been in that situation before,” Lovington coach Robert Arreola said of his team’s comeback. “As a matter of fact, we’ve been in that situation against these guys. We’ve got a big heart; we don’t give up. I don’t know if there was a moment we were ever panicking.”
On April 25 at Ram Field, the Wildcats trailed Portales after five innings in both games of a doubleheader before rallying for 3-2 and 6-4 wins.
“It’s crushing to come this close and lose to your district rival,” said PHS senior catcher Lynn Pinedo, who was unable to corral pitcher Mario Salazar’s curve ball in the dirt that let in the go-ahead run. “It’s tough losing to them.”
Portales coach Arturo Ontiveros said the Rams proved a lot by reaching the semifinals.
“We knew we were better than a 12 seed,” he said. “Our kids came out and played (hard), and that’s all you can ask of them. You have to tip your hat to their kids. They battled back.”
Wildcats senior Manny Murillo, who pitched a five-inning complete game in Thursday’s 12-2 quarterfinal win against New Mexico Military, went 5 1/3 innings in relief against the Rams to get the win.
“We needed someone to come in, and he did the job,” Arreola said. “He’s a warrior. We asked him how he felt and he said, ‘I’m ready to go.’”
Murillo allowed six hits, but walked just one and struck out seven.
“Murillo is a good pitcher; he’s got some good stuff,” Pinedo said. “We had chances to do it, but we didn’t come through.”
The Rams chased Lovington starter Larry Garza with a five-run second that featured RBI singles by Sammy Hightower, Antonio Lucio and Salazar and a run-scoring double by Justin Gilchrist. But the Wildcats used five singles, a hit batsman and an error to tie the game 5-5 in the top of the third.
Lovington went ahead with a run in the fifth. The Rams then loaded the bases with one out in the sixth against Murillo, and tied the score on an RBI fielder’s choice grounder by Lucio.
In the Portales seventh, Gilchrist reached on an error and went to third on Brandon Adkins’ double. Murillo then got Todd McBroom on a grounder to short and struck out Kevin Gonzales, then issued a walk to pinch-hitter Ricky Lovato to load the bases before getting Jake Leal on strikes to end it.
“We had second and third with three good hitters coming up,” Ontiveros said. “Usually you can score one there.”