Junior lefty Jason Parker gave up one hit and struck out six through six innings to help host Rio Rancho, the seventh-seeded team in the Class 5A state baseball tournament, into a quarterfinal contest Thursday.
The Rams whipped Volcano Vista 9-1 Saturday morning, making a third game in the best-of-three series unnecessary.
At 7 p.m. at Santa Ana Star Field in Albuquerque, the Rams will face No. 2 seed Sandia (20-6), which, like the Rams, needed just three games to knock its opponent (Mayfield) out of the state tournament. The Rams and Matadors have split two 2022 meetings, with the Rams beat Sandia 7-4 in a Metro semifinal and the Matadors returning the favor in a 7-1 victory 12 days later; both games were played at RRHS.
The Rams (24-4) took a 1-0 lead on Vascon Smith’s solo homer in the second, then scored three times in the fourth, on a sacrifice fly by Josh Boyer, a fielder’s choice off the bat of Casen Savage and a single by Ryan Casados. That sent Hawks starter Jaymin Fitak to the bench; coincidentally, his cousin, Kai Fitak, began his demise with a single to start that inning.
The Rams, beating the Hawks (14-12) for the fifth time in as many meetings this season, added runs in the fifth on Smith’s sacrifice fly and Boyer’s RBI single.
They didn’t really need any more runs, but the Rams added three unearned runs in the sixth, with two scoring when Hawks catcher Aiden Childs fired Fitak’s Baltimore chop past first base, scoring two runs, and Fitak later scoring on a wild pitch by Ethan Bruno.
Parker (8-0) retired the first nine Hawks he faced, then walked the first two hitters he faced in the fourth and allowed a single to load the bases. He got out of that lone jam on an infield popup and two strikeouts.
Jason Gordon pitched the seventh, yielding an unearned run when the Rams committed three infield errors.
“I didn’t feel any pressure,” Parker said. “I can trust my defense behind me; I feel like with a good defense behind me, there’s no stress. … The fastball’s been my go-to pitch.”
He didn’t mind leaving the game, despite the chance for another shutout; “It doesn’t really matter. As long as we get the W, that’s all that really matters.”
Coach Ron Murphy said the four-pitch first inning was the key.
“He got three outs, took care of business, and that’s kinda what he did all day. He probably didn’t have his best stuff today, but he got out of an inning with the bases loaded. … The one thing about him is he doesn’t show any emotion.”
Dominick Priddy led the Rams with three hits; Casados, Elijah Castañeda, Fitak and Smith each had two hits, as the Rams – winning their third game over the Hawks in nine days – belted out 14, 15 and then 14 hits in those victories.
Extra innings: MaxPreps has put the spotlight on 10 of the most incredible high school baseball fields in the country, and leading off a short video on its site is the Rio Rancho High School ballpark. The tour includes nine other ballparks, from California to Virginia.
… Murphy notched his 14th 20-win season as the Rams’ head coach this season, which is his 25th year at the helm. More remarkable is the fact that he’s had only one losing season in that quarter-century: The Rams were 13-17 in 2011.