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Rio Grande no-hits Los Lunas in Game 2 of doubleheader wherein run differential was crucial

Apr. 27—Los Lunas and Rio Grande played a doubleheader Saturday that proved to be as much about math as it was about baseball.

Lots and lots of math. And, as a bonus, the day included perhaps the most bizarre no-hitter of the entire season in New Mexico.

The teams that began Saturday in a tie for first place in District 5-5A, the Tigers and Ravens, split two games in the South Valley. Which sounds tidy enough.

It isn't. It wasn't.

Los Lunas, backed by a complete-game five-hitter from freshman pitcher J.J. Utash, won 6-2 in the opener.

Rio Grande, forced to respond, took Game 2, with no fewer than four Ravens pitchers — including the starter, Sebastian Chavez, who was pulled from the game despite having thrown five perfect innings — combining to no-hit Los Lunas in a 5-1 victory.

The rivals ended the day tied for first place.

That's the easy math.

Now for the more complex math.

Rio Grande (19-5 overall) and Los Lunas (15-9) remain locked in a tie for first, each at 7-1 in district.

Because both teams beat each other by four runs, if they were to finish the regular season tied for first, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head, which would be a wash. The district champion would then be determined by run differential against the other four teams in the league.

And here is where Rio Grande has the edge on Los Lunas, if only a slight one. Through Saturday, the Ravens are plus-53 in run differential, the Tigers are plus-50.

This becomes more significant when you consider exactly how Rio Grande came to win Game 2 by four runs.

The Ravens knew they had to win by at least four, so this game featured the extremely unusual sight of Rio Grande, leading 3-0, bringing in its infield when Los Lunas loaded the bases in the top of the sixth.

The Ravens walked home a run, but Jackson Brettelle, the third reliever of the sixth inning used by Rio Grande after Chavez (who was on a pitch count) was taken out, escaped the jam without sustaining further damage.

Still, Los Lunas, headed to the bottom of the sixth, was in good position even trailing 3-1. If the Tigers had lost Game 2 by three or fewer runs, then they'd have the end-of-the-season tiebreaking edge on the Ravens, if they remain tied.

So Rio Grande was keen on tacking on at least two more runs in the bottom of the sixth, which it did. The fifth run scored when a Ravens baserunner stole third, and Los Lunas' catcher threw wildly into left field trying to nab him. This allowed the runner to score, and it was a four-run lead.

"I would never gamble stealing the guy with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning," Rio Grande coach Orlando Griego said. "But I said, let's gamble ... and we got it."

Rio Grande's dugout went bonkers at this development, fully aware, having been told by Griego between games, the necessity of winning Game 2 by at least four runs.

"We knew that we had the edge," Griego said.

On the final day of the season, next Saturday, Rio Grande faces 3-21 Santa Fe. Los Lunas plays third-place Albuquerque High.

If Rio Grande had won 4-1 in Game 2, then Los Lunas would control its fate.

Instead it is the Ravens who control theirs.

And the day ended spectacularly, with Rio Grande sophomore center fielder Fabian Mendez making a tremendous diving catch to preserve the odd no-hitter.

"Never," Griego said, asked if he'd ever been part of a no-hitter like this one. "First time in my 29 years (as coach), being a part of one on either side of it. I've never been a part of one with two pitchers, let alone four."