5A baseball: La Cueva wins championship on two bases-loaded walks in the seventh

May 18—It was just Friday afternoon when Gerard Pineda, the head baseball coach at La Cueva High School, was discussing the many different ways his Bears have managed to win games this season.

But he never could have predicted how La Cueva would have won a state championship on Saturday night.

And what's more, he wasn't there to witness it.

Pineda was ejected in the sixth inning. His top-seeded team, down a run to No. 3 Cleveland in the bottom of the seventh, and down to its final out, recorded back-to-back walks with the bases loaded, and La Cueva improbably won the Class 5A title, 3-2, at Santa Ana Star Field.

"We've won games different ways, (but) you don't win many games like that," Pineda said.

Where was he when Reid Jacobson came home with the game-winning run? Out by the UNM tennis courts.

This was about as strange an ending to a title game as one might imagine, and it certainly was an excruciating loss for the Storm, which was just an out from securing its first state baseball championship.

A single by Braiden Reynolds, and Jacobson being hit by a pitch, gave La Cueva life in the seventh. A balk moved the runners up a bag; the Storm then intentionally walked Kaiden Nerhood to load the bases.

Cleveland reliever Joseph Stevenson, who pitched a few high quality innings for the Storm this week, struck out Brayden Likar for the second out.

But he lost the plate. He walked pinch-hitter Connor Baughman to tie the game.

"He just didn't have his best stuff today," La Cueva right fielder Evan Lane said of Stevenson.

Into the box walked La Cueva's 9-hole hitter, Luke Reiter, the team's catcher. And he knew Stevenson was struggling to find the strike zone, so he decided to make him throw strikes.

"That's exactly what I was thinking," Reiter said. "I stepped in there, I got a little closer to the dish ... if he can beat me, he can beat me. If not, we win."

He didn't, and the Bears won.

"We'll take it however we can," Reiter said.

"We're state champs,": Lane said, "and that's the way it goes sometimes."

La Cueva is 12-1 in its last 13 appearances in the final, and this makes a dozen titles for the Bears.

Cleveland took the lead in controversial fashion in the top of the sixth.

Anthony Del Angel of Cleveland, with one out, hit a deep fly ball down the right field line.

Lane, the Bears right fielder, ran a long way, and appeared to catch the ball on the line as his momentum brought him into a fence a few feet away.

The umpire ruled the ball fair.

"I thought it was a foul ball," Pineda said.

Lane said he thought it was foul, too.

But it wasn't. Pineda argued for several minutes with the first-base umpire. Then he had words with the plate umpire, who tossed him.

Meanwhile, Lane was unable to secure the ball, and it fell to the ground. Del Angel ended up at third with a triple. And he scored on Silas Hilton's sacrifice fly moments later for a 2-1 edge.

La Cueva had the game's first run, with Ramon Martinez doubling to left center with two outs, and scoring when Reynolds blooped a single down the right-field line.

What was so unusual about Reynolds' single is that it would have been a foul ball had the game not been overtaken during those moments by a fierce southerly wind that blew his ball back on to the field of play.

In fact, the game was delayed for a minute or two in the first inning by some powerful winds that kicked up a tremendous amount of dust. And while it was breezy the rest of the night, the wind never blew as hard as it did for those few minutes.

Cleveland squared the game 1-all in the top of the third, thanks largely to a remarkable at-bat by the Storm's leadoff batter, third baseman Jarren Villa.

He was in the box with runners at first and third with one out, and Villa fouled off no fewer than seven Dylan Blomker pitches, before he finally rolled a slow ground ball to short, a ball that was not hit hard enough to turn a double play but accomplished its mission, scoring Gabe Nelson from third.