La Cueva sweeps Sandia to gain a stranglehold on District 2-5A baseball race

Apr. 20—The prep baseball calendar says there are still two weeks to go in the regular season.

And technically, that is correct.

But just as true is this: the La Cueva Bears have likely ensured that nobody but them can win the District 2-5A championship.

La Cueva's 4-2, 17-2 sweep at No. 3 Sandia on Saturday felt in every possible way like the 2-5A clinching victories for Class 5A's No. 1-ranked team.

"We controlled our destiny, and a couple of wins went a long way," La Cueva coach Gerard Pineda said.

Saturday could hardly have gone much better for La Cueva (19-2, 6-0).

Sandia (15-7, 3-3) started the day a game behind the Bears in 2-5A. The Matadors left their home field three games behind with four to go, and their chances of winning the district are gone.

Not only that, but Eldorado's doubleheader sweep on Saturday against Farmington (scores were 10-9 and 5-3) allowed the Eagles (15-6, 4-2) to leapfrog Sandia and into second place in the district, two games behind La Cueva.

Eldorado and La Cueva meet on the final weekend of the season, but the Eagles, even if they win two games next week, are almost surely going to need a sweep.

Sandia had won the most recent matchup against La Cueva, 8-3, at the Rio Rancho tournament late last month.

"We didn't play as good as we could have, and they showed up," said Bears second baseman Reid Jacobson, who drove in three runs in Game 2. "Today, we showed that we're a pretty good team, too."

La Cueva's right-handed pitching — Braiden Reynolds (7-0) in an 84-pitch, complete-game three-hitter in Game 1, and Dylan Blomker (5-1) and Trevor Johnson in the five-inning second game — combined to limit Sandia to nine hits in 12 innings.

"Today we did not hit," Sandia coach Marc Hilton said. "It got us today. It was not our best day of baseball this year."

Game 2 marked Sandia's worst loss in eight years, since a 17-1 loss to La Cueva in April of 2016. A split would have benefited Sandia quite a bit, but La Cueva scored six runs in the top of the first inning of Game 2.

"Our guys kind of let down a little bit once we gave up that lead," Hilton said of La Cueva's six-run first-inning outburst in Game 2. Matadors starter Levi Brooks struggled in the first, and left the game with an injury before throwing a pitch in the second inning.

Two-run doubles by Jacobson and Evan Lane highlighted the six-run rally.

La Cueva added nine runs (on seven hits) in the third, keyed by Reynolds' two-run single. He had five RBIs for the two games, in addition to his nifty three-hitter. All but one La Cueva starter hit safely in Game 2; Lane drove in four runs, adding a two-RBI single in the third.

"The big thing we talked about is just grinding at-bats, and giving ourselves a chance, putting the ball in play, and we did that," Pineda said. "It's nice when ... there's not a whole lot of pressure to feel like any one person has to do something extra."

In the opener, Reynolds pitched six hitless innings — the first three and the last three, and retired 11 of the final 12 batters he faced. Sandia had all three of its hits in the fourth inning, including a two-run single by Jeremiah Bustillos.

"They're really good over there," Reynolds said.

But Reynolds was better.

"He does a great job of just pitching to contact. He's got great stuff and he goes right after it," Jacobson said of Reynolds.

It was already 4-0 for La Cueva before Sandia scored. Reynolds had an RBI double in the first and a sacrifice fly in the third. The Matadors also missed on two chances to gun down La Cueva baserunners at the plate with short-hopped throws home.

The Bears are at Farmington for two games next Week. Sandia faces Piedra Vista.