Rio Rancho slips by Sandia in dramatic, extra-innings tournament title game

Mar. 30—RIO RANCHO — How did the championship game of the Sal Puentes Invitational end?

Put simply, it ended on a pitch that couldn't be hit, and couldn't be caught.

"It was the nastiest pitch of the day," Rio Rancho High baseball coach David Gomez said.

It was a filthy breaking ball from Sandia reliever Talan Barraza. The bases were loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, there were two outs, and there were two strikes on the Rams batter, Dean Ellison.

Barraza fooled Ellison, who swung at strike three, but the ball bounced by Matadors catcher Damon McRee and to the backstop, and the winning run raced home without a throw as No. 4-ranked Rio Rancho won its home tournament in unusual but dramatic fashion, 2-1 over No. 2 Sandia on Saturday afternoon.

"I was telling Dean on that pitch, that's probably the only pitch that could have got you to swing and miss," Gomez said. "And it was damn near uncatchable, which was proven. Best pitch the kid could have thrown."

It was a fortunate finish for the Rams (14-3), an unfortunate one for the Matadors (12-3) who were on the wrong end of several bizarre breaks Saturday.

"That pitch is easy to get away from any catcher," Sandia coach Marc Hilton said, accurately. "For it to be decided like that, it's tough for the loser. We had some bad luck."

Bryson Martinez hit a one-out double to right in the ninth off Barraza to get the game-winning rally started.

"I saw my opportunity, I saw my pitch, I took advantage of it," Martinez said.

He moved to third on a fly ball. At that point, there were runners at first and third. Sandia walked Rio Rancho's best hitter, Casen Savage, to load the bases.

Then Ellison, and a bizarre walk-off victory.

"We got really lucky at the end, but sometimes you have to be more lucky than good," Gomez said.

It was, by and large, an exceedingly well pitched game. Junior Brandon Segal for the Rams, lefty Levi Brooks for Sandia.

The game was scoreless through five innings.

Sandia had the only two baserunners that got as far as third base. One of those threats ended on a double play — one of three turned by the Rams — and this one was strange, since a ball up the middle deflected off the base umpire, ricocheting to the second baseman, Jackson Roybal, who stepped on second base and threw to first for two outs.

But, Sandia did break through in the top of the fifth. Eli Healy singled with one out, and scored when the next batter, Adriel Figueroa-Brito, doubled down the left-field line.

Figueroa-Brito later was erased on a marvelous double play. In center, Savage, going left, caught a fly ball, stopped, and fired a one-hop bullet to third to catch Figueroa-Brito who was trying to tag up.

Rio Rancho pulled even in the bottom of the sixth on a suicide squeeze bunt by Ryan Lewis. That scored Nick DiGregorio, who opened the inning with a single to center.

"No matter what," Savage said, "we were gonna score a run in that inning."

Noah Serna got the victory in relief of Segal. Serna came on to start the eighth inning.

"It was a quality win," Martinez said. "We're picking up steam right now."

Said Savage: "We're hot, we're ready to go."

Both teams open district play next week. The Matadors, who beat No. 3 Cleveland and No 1 La Cueva on the first two days of the Puentes, visit Farmington for two District 2-5A games on Friday. Rio Rancho takes on Atrisco Heritage on Tuesday in a 1-5A opener.

The third-place game Saturday also was lengthy. La Cueva defeated Carlsbad 5-4 in 10 innings.