Delve back into the roots of Rio Rancho High School baseball, and you’ll find plenty of great pitchers, starting with Stephen Solwick, who was drafted twice by the Chicago Cubs.
Then, there have been Ben Frye, Carlos Casillas, Donovan Silva, Michael McDermott, Kyle Hammond, the late Anthony Haase (also drafted and played professionally), Alex Wehner, Josh Walker (who also went on to play professionally), Elijah Cappello, Grant Templin, Wyatt Kelley, Zach Bravo (drafted but declined to sign to continue his college career), Andrew Duran, Hudson White and Alec Stanfield.
These 2021 Rams are gifted with — pardon the pun — a handful of arms.
Devon Alvarado, a junior whom coach Ron Murphy says is probably his best lefty all-time, is 6-0.
Alvarado doesn’t say much after his wins, basically crediting his guys, including center fielder Eric Romero, whom he and Murphy proclaimed as the best in the state at that position.
Junior Ryan Casados (4-0) and senior Stuart Smith (5-0), bound for Fort Scott Community College next season, round out the rotation, but Murphy also has sophomores Jason Parker (1-0) and Seth Lee (1-0) for two more seasons, providing backing — and relief — for Alvarado and Casados in 2022.
“(Parker and Lee are) both gonna be great pitchers in our future,” Murphy said after Lee’s varsity debut on the hill, a 17-1 rout of visiting Capital on May 12. (Lee didn’t go the required four innings to get credit for the win, but Parker, a lefty, did in relief.)
“You know me — I like to put young guys in there and start getting them ready,” Murphy added.
First-year pitching coach Dave Gomez downplayed any credit for the team’s mound success.
“I’m walking into a well-oiled machine,” he said. “All I do is put numbers down on my fingers (to signal pitches for the catcher to call).”
It’s long been said a baseball team needs to be strong up the middle, which the Rams are, with catchers Dominic Priddy and sophomore Josh Boyer; shortstop Garrett Rede and second baseman Tyler Murphy; and Romero in center field.
“We have a great defense,” Murphy said. “Our kids have played well, and it makes our pitching a lot better when they have confidence (in their teammates) behind them.”
Rams 21, Capital 0: On Wednesday in Santa Fe, the Rams continued their best season and improved to 17-0 with an easy victory over the Jaguars.
Smith pitched the first four innings, giving up one hit, to get the win in his team’s seventh shutout of the season, and Kai Fitak pitched a scoreless fifth.
Alvarado connected on his first home run of the season. Eric Romero had four RBIs.
Rams 9, Atrisco Heritage Academy 0: On June 4, a pre-game ceremony to honor Murphy as the state’s winningest baseball coach and a 36-minute lightning delay were something fans don’t get to see very often, but a shutout is almost always expected in 2021.
Lee’s second start began with a single by the Jaguars’ first batter, but he went on to scatter just two more hits ,strike out four and get a lot of groundball outs through six innings of work.
Casados worked a hitless seventh.
Designated-hitter Elijah Castañeda had three RBIs, while Murphy went 2 for 3 and drove in three runs — two of them in the Rams’ five-run fourth — and Casados was also 2 for 3 with one RBI.
Also chipping in with hits were Rede, Priddy, Colt Uphold and Fitak.
Gomez said Lee’s performance was “great.
“We were watching him earlier in the year, when he was just on JV, and we thought he had a varsity breaking ball, and we thought that would be a good matchup for Atrisco.”
Obviously, it was.
“I think today my curveball was working really well,” Lee, a former Sunset Little League all-star outfielder, said. “They were swinging at it a lot, so that was nice. I was mostly letting the infield do the work. … We have, like, the best defense in the state.”
Extra innings: After hosting Cibola on Friday evening, the Rams wrap up the regular season this week, with a Tuesday game at Cleveland, then a home contest Friday with Volcano Vista, with both of those important 1-5A contests starting at 6 p.m.
… The Rams’ longest winning streak in school history is 18 games, which began with the last 16 games of their 2009 championship season and extended two games into the 2010 campaign.
… Following their victory at Capital, the Rams visited the Santa Fe National Cemetery. “We visited some of our players’ relatives, as well as my parents,” Murphy noted on Facebook. “They learned about some of the people who gave us our freedom. Fourteen of our players have never been here before today. It was great hearing them talk about the writing on the headstones and appreciate all our heroes today.
“My players showed much respect today for those who wore our uniforms from every war.”