Getting the Number 1 seed for the state baseball tournament doesn’t necessarily mean your team will win the state championship game.
The Rams were No. 1 in 2016 and lost to Carlsbad, which had standout lefty Trevor Rogers – now on the Miami Marlins’ staff – on the hill.
This year, the Rams again were No. 1.
Five victories later, including a couple of comebacks, they proved they were the best team in the whole state.
The 2023 Rams had “balance and all the tools of baseball – run, hit, play small-ball, defense – and the long ball,” coach Ron Murphy pointed out.
Was this his best team ever? After all, that 2020 team had the makings of a championship team, with college-bound talents, but the pandemic shortened that season and some senior expectations.
“I think it’s close,” Murphy said. “It’s hard to tell because of different types of teams, and they can’t play one another, like old Yankees vs. new Yankees.”
With more than 600 career victories under his belt, and 521 with the Rams, Murphy – with the most victories of any coach at RRHS — is more of a general manager than head coach.
He’s a great example of the best business plan for general managers and bosses: Surround yourselves with good people and let them do their jobs.
Murphy, who likes to tell people he’s “too old for this,” has a proven, loyal coaching staff, anchored during ballgames by first base coach Gino Satriana and third base coach Dave Gomez.
Yeah, sometimes he’ll grumble under his breath when Gomez waits too long or is too quick to change pitchers, but it works out.
Even before each game’s first pitch, a lot of work has gone into planning and preparing for the game itself. And this season, very little went into the lineup, basically the same nine guys run out there every game, with only a slight change determined by who the starting pitcher would be.
Satriana and Gomez have probably seen the day’s opponent several times, and each made trips to Las Cruces to see some of those “southern” teams play, including Centennial, which turned out to be the Rams’ opponent in the 5A championship game.
“We watch every game over and over,” Murphy said. “We see every district team five or six times before we play them. Teams don’t know us like we know them; we make it a priority to know them, so hats off to our staff.”
Like so many successful high school sports programs, the Rams don’t annually rebuild, they reload.
In addition to exemplary coaching, this year’s team had the necessary ingredients for success.
Strength up the middle: Catcher Josh Boyer, keystone combo of slick-fielding shortstop Niko Alcala and second baseman Vascon Smith, a Lobo next season, and center fielder Casen Savage, fast enough to track down balls hit into the gaps.
Plenty of arms: Pitchers Seth Lee (8-0), Dylan Archuleta (8-0), Kai Fitak (5-0), Jason Parker (3-0), Dylan Tinker (2-0) and Casen Savage (1-0, with key saves in the semifinal and championship games). “We didn’t have a pitcher throw 90 pitches all year,” Murphy pointed out. “When you got Seth and Kai and Archuleta and Savage, there was never a question of depth.”
Great defense: The Rams rarely had an error in a ballgame, with left fielder Tinker and right fielder Sean Vigil possessing great gloves.
Great offense: The Rams are a tough team to pitch to, with all nine hitters capable of driving in runs or starting rallies, none better at that than Alcala. The use of aluminum bats added more long balls, this season, although every team uses them now. Add speed on the base paths, where almost every Ram could steal a base.
Team chemistry: “We had great team chemistry,” Murphy said. “They really were good about supporting each other, picking each other up. We told them ‘Your job is to pick up your teammates.’ We talked about leadership and team and family – this team bought into it big time.”
What about the 2024 squad, Murphy was asked.
“People don’t realize we have nine varsity lettermen back; we carried 20 (in 2023), had 11 seniors. Vigil, Savage, Lewis, Archuleta, (Jordan) Sena at catcher – we’ve got a good group coming back,” he said. “I would say my biggest worry for next year is we won’t have the depth we had this year.”
And Ryan Lewis and Dean Ellison will find themselves on the bump a lot more in 2024.
Extra innings: St. Pius X, where Murphy coached and took the Sartans into back-to-back championship games in 1996 and ’97, his final two seasons there, also won a state championship on May 13.
… Ron Murphy, who won his 600th career game this season, is this year’s Class 5A Coach of the Year. His players dominated the postseason honors, with first-team honorees Seth Lee (pitcher), Josh Boyer (catcher), Vascon Smith (second base), Kai Fitak (third base) and center fielder Caen Savage. Additionally, shortstop Niko Alcala, first baseman Dean Ellison and pitcher Dylan Archuleta were second-teamers.
… Cleveland High had three postseason honorees: designated-hitter Anthony Del Angel (second team), pitcher Austin Barela (honorable mention) and outfielder Silas Hilton (honorable mention).