ALBUQUERQUE — Early Thursday morning, Rio Rancho High School baseball coach Ron Murphy thought his players were pulling a prank on him, with a Class 5A state quarterfinal game only a few “I’ve never had a 6:30 a.m. call that, ‘I’m in the hospital; I’m on IV … And then 10 minutes later, I had another one. And then a half-hour later, I had another one.
“I told (pitching coach Dave) Gomez, ‘I think they’re pranking me.’”
They weren’t: “We had four guys on IVs today,” Murphy added.
Catcher Josh Boyer wasn’t about to let his sickness keep him out of the big game, even though Murphy told him to stay home.
So, using a make-shift lineup against the No. 2 Sandia Matadors wasn’t the cure: Sandia beat the Rams (24-5) 7-2 to advance to a Friday semifinal against their District 2-5A foe, La Cueva. District 4-5A’s Carlsbad and Hobbs squared off in the other semifinal.
“There is definitely some adversity today, and I am so proud with the way our kids responded to it,” Murphy said.
The No. 7 Rams got off to a good start
Dominick Priddy, the starting catcher most of the season but playing right field, led the game off with a triple and scored on a groundout off the bat of Elijah Castañeda.
But that was the extent of the Rams’ offense, until they added a solo tally in the fifth.
Sandia’s Nico Barela had great stuff on the mound, only allowing two runners as far as second base the rest of the way, and striking out a dozen Rams.
Rams right-hander Seth Lee (3-4) retired nine of the first 10 Matadors (21-7) he faced, and had four strikeouts.
But the fourth inning was his downfall, after he retired the first Matador: a single and two walks filled the bases, and Murphy called in lefty Jason Parker to stifle the rally.
That didn’t work: Parker, in order, gave up a two-run single, an RBI single to Barela, a two-run double and an RBI single, gaining Sandia a 6-1 lead, before getting back-to-back fly balls to Castañeda in center and Priddy in right.
“Seth was dealing; he just hit a wall – like quick,” Murphy said. “I think the adrenaline
… he was throwing a lot harder than he was used to earlier, and it got him tired a little bit earlier.”
The Matadors added their final run off reliever Jason Gordon in the sixth, and lefty Devon Alvarado, who started the game in left field, struck out three in a row to end the sixth.
Barela then whiffed Alvarado, Lee and Priddy to end the game.
The Rams had only six hits off Barela; two by Priddy and one each by Castañeda, Kai Fitak, Boyer and Dylan Archuleta.
“We’re in a 1-0 game in the fourth inning, with five kids at home — three starters. Our shortstop (Ryan Casados) starts throwing up; I have to get his dad out of the stands to drive him home in the second inning,” Murphy said, undoubtedly wishing all the sick calls had been a prank.
“I didn’t hear one negative thing about today,” Murphy added. “We had a shortstop (Nico Alcala) in his first varsity game. We had an eighth-grader (Dean Ellison) play two innings in left field. … It’s a good group of kids.
“What I’ll remember is that we had no chance to come out here today, if everybody knew what was going on, but our kids battled anyway and they played to win,” Murphy concluded. “I’m proud of that.”