Rio Rancho second baseman Vascon Smith was a kid with few words after his Rams eked out a 4-3 win over Cleveland Saturday afternoon in the championship game of the Sal Puentes/Rio Rancho Tourney, played on a gorgeous early spring day before the largest crowd of the season.
All Smith did was single home the game-tying run in the seventh inning and single home the game-winner in the ninth.
All he said was, “It’s fun … just keep winning.”
It was the third consecutive Saturday the Rams (16-1) won a first-place trophy, having done so in Las Cruces two weeks earlier and then at home while claiming the APS Metro title on March 19.
Trailing 1-0 after three innings, the Storm knotted the score at 1 in the fourth, helped by a throwing error by Rams shortstop Ryan Casados.
The score stayed at 1-1 until the sixth, when the Storm (9-7) scored twice: Austin Barela led off with a double, went to third on a wild pitch from Rams starter Devon Alvarado, and scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Darren Villa.
Chase Tyler then tripled and scored on a single by DJ Sandoval.
The Rams scored a run in the bottom of the sixth, when Bryan Vasquez came off the bench to get hit by a pitch, steal second and score on a single by Casen Savage.
Down 3-2 going into the bottom of the seventh, Dominick Priddy was hit by a pitch, stole second, headed to third on a wild pitch by Darren Villa and scored on Smith’s single up the middle. Smith later found himself on third, but Seth Lee’s comebacker ended that brief rally.
Kai Fitak, the fourth of four Rams hurlers, allowed a harmless single in the seventh, then had 1-2-3 innings in the eighth and ninth.
The Rams nearly won it in the bottom of the eighth off Villa, who retired the first two batters on routine ground balls, then walked Casen Savage and Casados before getting Priddy to ground out.
The Rams faced Justin Brady, the fourth Storm pitcher, in the bottom of the ninth.
Elijah Castaneda banged a triple off the wall in right-center on Brady’s first pitch, and seconds later, Smith drove him home as the Rams won for the 39th time in their last 41 games, going back to the end of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
District 1-5A action arrives for both city’s teams this week.
The Storm play a non-district contest in Farmington on Tuesday, then head to Cibola for a 4 p.m. district game Friday.
The Rams – 8-0 at home thus far – open 1-5A action Tuesday at 6 vs. visiting Atrisco Heritage Academy, then have a make-up game with Sandia Wednesday at 4.