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Matadors win tight season opener against Volcano Vista

Feb. 28—The margin between Sandia and Volcano Vista on Wednesday afternoon was this: one poorly timed, hanging breaking ball.

That third-inning pitch, probably the only quantifiable mistake made by Hawks starting pitcher Dominick Maese, who was otherwise outstanding, became a two-run double for the Matadors. That moment loomed over the entire proceedings in what ended up being a tight 3-2 victory for Sandia in the Matadors' prep baseball season opener at Sandia.

"I love what I see," Matadors coach Marc Hilton said after his first victory as the head coach of his alma mater. "We got behind quick, our guys didn't panic, and showed signs of that experience that does return here. They're determined to take care of unfinished business."

Wednesday's matchup, which featured an abundance of excellent pitching on both sides, turned on a 60-second span in the bottom of the third, and two pitches.

Volcano Vista (1-1) already had a 2-0 lead by then.

For Sandia in the third, after an opening walk, Damon McRee hit a single to center to put runners at first and second with nobody out. Following a strikeout, Talan Barraza stepped in against Maese.

Maese hung a two-strike breaking ball, which Barraza pounded to the base of the left-field fence, scoring both baserunners to knot the game.

"My first at-bat, I didn't see it well. I got kinda buckled," Barraza said. "The second at-bat, I saw it better."

On the next pitch after the game-tying double, Adriel Figueroa-Brito plated Barraza with an RBI single to left-center. That was the game's final run.

Meanwhile, Figueroa-Brito and junior lefty Levi Brooks combined for a superb pitching performance for Sandia.

Figueroa-Brito surrendered a double to Izach Benavidez on the first pitch of the game. On the second pitch, Hunter Martinez scored Benavidez with a single.

The Hawks doubled their lead on a wild pitch in the top of the third. This followed a hit by pitch, a stolen base and a balk that advanced the runner to third base.

Brooks relieved Figueroa-Brito to start the fourth, which was the pre-game plan, Hilton said. Brooks was only in minor trouble once, when Volcano Vista put two runners on base in the sixth. But a ground ball ended the threat.

Brooks earned the win in relief since he tossed the final four innings without giving up a run, but in truth this felt more like a save. Fittingly, Brooks wears the (extremely rare) jersey number 00.

"We spent a lot of time in the offseason developing a pitching staff, and we got it tested the first day against a very good Volcano Vista team," Hilton said. "A tremendous job by both those guys."

Barraza was poised to close it out, but Brooks was so effective, working quickly and throwing strikes, that he wasn't needed. Brooks was a JV pitcher last year.

"He's got some great stuff, and got some guys off balance and got outs," Hilton said. "We're very pleased with the outing."

Sandia's top starting pitcher, senior Zach Kmatz who has signed with Oregon State, did not appear in the opener. Hilton said he would likely make his debut next week, against either Cibola or Las Cruces.

"Zach is out, so we made up a plan (to) get everyone in, and it seemed like it worked," Barraza said. Barraza also authored the game's most special defensive play from shortstop.

Lucian Dixon hit a ball into the hole that looked like it was destined for left field in the top of the fifth. Barraza dove to his right, laid out and snagged the ball cleanly, then popped up quickly and fired a bullet to retire Dixon at first.

Maese struck out 13 Sandia batters, including the side in both the fourth and sixth innings, and was a tough-lose loser.