Clovis High’s Cade Wheeler catches the ball as Rio Rancho’s Ethan Gill slides back to first at Bell park on Saturday evening. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)
By Greg Price: CNJ sports writer
Rio Rancho coach Ron Murphy said he saved his top pitchers for the finals because he figured Clovis would be a tough out.
Rio Rancho’s Kyle Hammond and Anthony Haase kept the Wildcats in check on Saturday as the Rams beat Clovis 12-3 in the championship game of the season-opening Clovis Invitational at Bell Park.
Due to severe weather conditions, mainly wind, Levelland and Hereford were unable to make it in for Saturday’s consolation championship and seventh-place game, respectively, forcing their cancellation. In the third-place contest, Santa Fe High defeated El Paso Del Valle
Clovis coach Shane Shallenberger said despite the lopsided loss he was proud of how his team played, but Rio Rancho’s pitching was just too dominate.
“They have a great pitching staff,” Shallenberger said. “Everybody they throw in there is good.
“Our kids played hard. We just played one of the top teams in New Mexico. We’re going to learn and get better.”
Clovis’ pitchers struggled, with starter Josh Burrell going 3 1/3 innings and giving up five runs.
First baseman Joey Garcia put the Rams up 2-0 with a two-run homer off Burrell in the top of the first.
The Wildcats responded in the bottom half as senior Jonathan Ware drilled a two-run single, bringing in Jarod Kiser and Parker Wood.
But Rio Rancho went in front for good after third baseman Josh Capello smacked a single, scoring center fielder Zach Martinez from second in the top of the second.
“Our bats were hot this whole weekend,” Murphy said. “It was good to play Clovis because we know they’re always a tough team to beat.”
Rio Rancho padded its lead after Martinez doubled to open the fourth and Capello brought him in with another double. Burrell then threw a wild pitch sending Capello to third, and Bubbs Montano put down a successful squeeze bunt for a 5-2 margin.
The Cats scored their final run in the sixth, when Andrew Gilliard reached first on an error by Rio Rancho shortstop Ethan Gill and then came around on three wild pitches by Haase.
In the seventh, Capello walked and second baseman David Waid was hit by a pitch before Gill smoked a ball to left-center for a two-run triple.
Kiser said the Cats showed promise, despite the loss.
“We have a young pitching staff, but we’re showing signs of (being) a great team,” Kiser said. “We didn’t play like we were able, but we worked together and cutdown on our errors.
“We also hit better in this tournament. We’re a young team, so none of us have seen a pitching staff like theirs. It just comes down to experience.”