Cardinals eliminate Horsemen from district race
LAS VEGAS, N.M. — Nothing to see here.
No drama, no controversy.
It’s the final week of the regular season for high school baseball and, entering Tuesday’s action, the top of the standings in District 2-3A were a mess topped with one giant question mark. Separated by just one game and facing the very real likelihood they could end up in a tie for first place, the question surrounding the Las Vegas Robertson and St. Michael’s baseball teams had to do with a suspended game between the two back on April 13. Officially it went down as a 3-3 tie after eight innings. Halted due to darkness, it was never meant to be completed.
Had St. Michael’s won Tuesday’s game in Las Vegas, a first-place tie almost certainly would have happened after Thursday’s regular season wrapped up. It had people from both sides wondering if they’d get permission to complete the suspended game and settle the tiebreaker on the field and not in run differential in head-to-head matchups.
Robertson put an end to that debate once and for all Tuesday. Behind a dominant pitching performance from Austen King, the top-ranked Cardinals (16-7-1 overall, 10-2-1 in 2-3A) officially eliminated the Horsemen (14-9-1, 8-4-1) from the district race with an 11-1 rout at Memorial Middle School.
Across the street, West Las Vegas was busy putting the finishing touches on a 9-1 win over Raton to put a stranglehold on second place. The Dons (15-6, 10-3) still have a shot at the top spot. They’ll need a doubleheader sweep of Santa Fe Indian on Thursday coupled with Raton sweeping Robertson that same day.
Anything less hands the Cardinals the district title.
“We knew coming in what we had to do and once the game started off the way it did I think we were feeling good about it,” said Robertson head coach Leroy Gonzalez.
His positive vibes had everything to do with King. A senior who had never started a game on the mound, all he did was stay in control the entire way. He pitched into the top of the sixth, allowing one run on two hits with eight strikeouts. The Horsemen didn’t get their first hit until an Aiden Gantt single with two outs in the fourth.
Until Tuesday, King was Robertson’s primary closer.
“The only difference is it took longer to warm up, longer to get loose,” he said. “I just kind of had to ease my way into the game.”
He fell behind early in the count a handful of times but was able to recover when he had to. He threw 90 pitches in 51/3 innings and completely shut down the top of the St. Michael’s order. The top three spots were a combined 0-for-9 with six strikeouts.
“We talked about gearing up for the fastball because that’s all he really threw, but we just didn’t do it,” said Augie Ruiz, Horsemen head coach. “When you don’t have very much traffic on the basepaths it’s hard to execute anything.”
Gantt had two of the three hits for the Horsemen, driving in the team’s only run with an RBI double to the fence in left in the top of the sixth. King and reliever Caleb Marrujo combined to strike out 10 batters.
The Cardinals had only nine hits. They drew four walks and had two batters hit in five-plus innings of work from Horsemen pitchers Eric Romero, Thomas Erickson and Gantt. Romero started and was trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth when he exited the game with soreness in his right elbow.
He left with two runners on base and the game still very much in doubt, but both runs came in on a throwing error by catcher Ceejay Saiz when his pickoff throw to third base sailed down the line into left field. The Cardinals added two more runs in the fifth and four more in the sixth to end it early via the 10-run mercy rule.
Antonio Padilla and Brandon Lucero each had two hits for the Cardinals while Marrujo and King combined to score five runs. Lucero is the team’s pitching ace but he hasn’t taken the mound since that April 13 encounter with St. Michael’s due to an undisclosed arm injury. He started Tuesday at first base and finished the game at second.
“Brandon wanted to pitch today and you have to like that since it’s such a big game, but it’s one of those arm things that he can only make it worse if he’s out there when he doesn’t really need to be,” Gonzalez said. “He’ll be back for state, but for now it’s a chance for players like Austen and everybody else to see what they can do.”
The Horsemen had four errors, all of them coming in the final three innings. … St. Michael’s freshman Derek Martinez had what may have been one of the most impressive debuts in recent memory last season, striking out just two times in 50 plate appearances as an eighth grader called up to varsity in the final month of the schedule. He had a tough day Tuesday, striking out in all three of his at-bats. … Not only did the Horsemen need to win Tuesday to force a tie with Robertson, they had to do it by at least six runs to offset the run differential from their only other completed game against one another. “That was going to be a tough thing no matter what, so as long as we kept it close we knew we’d be OK,” Gonzalez said.