SANTA FE— It was probably later than 11- and 12-year-old kids should stay up, but it’s never too late to celebrate a state championship.
And not just any state championship: The Sunset Little League Majors Division all-stars garnered the SLL’s first state championship in the league’s 30 years of existence Thursday night after a 19-2 rout of Carlsbad’s Shorthorn Little League.
Although the lopsided contest, which lasted only three innings due to the mercy rule, ended at 10:42 p.m., in sports jargon, it was over early.
Sunset sent 16 batters to the plate in the first inning, drawing nine walks, with seven of those hitters scoring. The 10 runs came off just five hits.
After a one-hit second inning, Sunset sent 14 batters to the plate in the third inning, this time getting seven more walks, which led to another six runs, not counting a hit batter, who also scored.
By game’s end, Sunset had drawn 17 free passes, 16 of the bases on balls, and that led to 14 of their runs.
Oh, SLL got some hits, too.
The team’s version of MLB two-way standout Shohei Ohtani, southpaw Logan Sunstrom, shackled Shorthorn on four hits, struck out eight — of a possible nine — and socked two homers, including a grand slam in the first inning.
When he next came to the plate, in the third inning, the bases were loaded again. But before he could connect, one teammate scored on a passed ball and another crossed the plate on a wild pitch, one of four dealt that frame — so he settled for his second walk of the night.
Chase Rivera and Landon Fairhurst had two singles and one RBI apiece; Brayden Bustillos, Peyton Noel and Jakob Williams added one single each. Malachi Rios had the distinction of being walked four times, scoring twice; Liam Lynas walked three times and plated twice.
Stephen Rios, the team’s manager, said, “They came out and played a hard game, man. They had to battle the game before; it worked in our favor.”
In a game played before the championship game, Shorthorn needed eight innings to eliminate Albuquerque’s Roadrunner Little League, 10-9, tying the game and then winning it on wild pitches.
Meanwhile, Rios’s team was waiting — for what was supposed to be a 7 p.m. game, which didn’t see the first pitch till 8:42.
“We started at the cages at 5, came over here, had another hour and a half,” he said, laughing.
“I think it’s a good split; I think we have about five or six going to Cleveland (High in the future,” he said, although Rio Rancho High School will probably end up with Sunstrom, whose older brother, Tyler,suffered a torn ACL early in his senior season this year.
“It’s just hard work, man. We’ve been grinding most of this season,” Rios said. “A lot of them are club kids. Nine of them (including Sunstrom) are Hooligans (from The MAC).”
Following the team’s championship in the District 8 tournament, which included victories over North Valley, Eastdale and Paradise Hills, plus a 2-1 win over North Valley in the championship game, Sunset ripped off 10-run wins at state over Artesia (13-1); Belen (13-3) — Sunstrom’s earlier pitching win; and Roadrunner (10-0), leading to the showdown with Shorthorn.
Had Sunset lost Thursday, the “if necessary” game in the double-elimination format would have been played July 23.
The Southwestern Regionals start Thursday, Aug. 5, with Sunset appearing in the day’s first game vs. Tulsa National. The other opening-round games that day, in order, are North Boulder (Colo.) vs. Mississippi, Needville (Texas East) vs. Junior Deputy Baseball (Ark.) and Texas West vs. Lafayette (La.).
The regional’s championship and runner-up teams then head to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series, where only one team from New Mexico — the Roswell Hondo team in 1956 — has ever won.
There’s little doubt that Rios and his boys will face a lot more grinding.
Also on the SLL squad are James McGonigle, Jackson Lee, Nathan Urbano, Jacob Tabbert and Joseph Klassen. Rios’s coaches are Chris Rivera and John Lynas.

Hail to the Sunset Little League’s first state-championship team, off to the regionals in Waco, Texas, in August.