Sandia, Rio Rancho win Puentes semifinals; Cleveland's Villa hits two homers, strikes out 19

Mar. 29—RIO RANCHO — Sandia got some revenge. The player who might possibly be the MVP in Class 5A baseball was magnificent. And there was even an all-time historic performance in a consolation game.

So went an eventful Friday at the Sal Puentes Tournament at Rio Rancho High School.

No. 2 Sandia beat No. 1 La Cueva in one semifinal. The fourth-ranked Rams pulled away late from No. 8 Carlsbad in the second semi.

Rio Rancho (13-3) and Sandia (12-2) meet at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Puentes final; they met late last week in the metro semifinals, a game won 5-3 by the Matadors.

RIO RANCHO 11, CARLSBAD 5: There is a legitimate argument to be made that Rams senior outfielder Casen Savage is as valuable, if not more valuable, to his team than any other single player is to his team.

"He's got my vote," Rio Rancho coach David Gomez said.

On Friday night, Savage was 4-for-4, including three extra-base hits, scored four runs, and pitched the final two innings to record his seventh save already this season.

"He's fantastic," Gomez said. "He hits for us, he makes plays, he creates outs from center field, and he comes in and shuts the door as a closer. We couldn't ask for more out of him."

There were four lead changes in a back-and-forth matchup with the Cavemen (10-5).

The fourth of them occurred in the bottom of the sixth, when Rio Rancho plated three runs for a 6-4 lead. Savage and Dean Ellison had back-to-back RBI doubles in that inning.

Savage finished with two doubles and a triple. He came to the plate in the seventh with a chance for the cycle if he homered. And he nearly did, belting a ground-rule double (into the wind) to right. The Rams added five runs in the seventh.

Savage entered on the mound with a 6-4 lead in the sixth. He finished Rio Rancho's final two games at state last May after doing very little pitching the whole 2023 season.

"That kind of developed his role," Gomez said. "He took it, he loved it. We could start him, but he's so much more valuable out of the pen."

Now Savage has become the final word for Rio Rancho in close games, and the Rams have had more than a few.

"I love it," Savage said of his closer's role. "When it gets close, I come in and shut the door."

The No. 8-hole hitter for Carlsbad, Tanner Collins, hit a pair of home runs and had three RBIs for the Cavemen. Carlsbad plays La Cueva for third place at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

SANDIA 8, LA CUEVA 3: The Matadors flipped the script from their metro final loss to La Cueva six days earlier, a 13-3 defeat in which the Bears dominated.

Sandia was in control the whole way in the afternoon semifinal Friday. The Matadors scored three runs apiece in the third and fourth inning, and amassed an 8-0 lead before the Bears (11-2) scored all their runs in the bottom of the seventh.

Adriel Figueroa-Brito went the first 6 1/3 innings without giving up a run for Sandia in a very efficient outing against a strong La Cueva offense.

"We gathered ourselves and got right back to work on Monday to prepare for this tournament and these guys are playing great baseball," Sandia coach Marc Hilton said.

Friday was as much about pride as anything, Hilton said.

"Absolutely," he said. "We were upset, and we were ready to come back."

Aiden Griego's two-run double highlighted Sandia's three-run third. Griego has been swinging a hot bat of late; he also had the go-ahead RBI in Thursday's 8-5 quarterfinal victory over Cleveland.

"I think it was a good win for us, mentally," said Griego, a senior third baseman. "Going into district, (it lets us know) we are, if not as good as they are, maybe better. Who knows, depending on the day."

Damon McRee and Talan Barraza had RBI singles in the fourth inning for the Matadors as they chased La Cueva starter Dylan Blomker and went ahead 6-0.

JARREN VILLA: Villa, a junior, was incredible as the Storm defeated Artesia 9-1 in the consolation bracket Friday.

Villa not only hit two home runs, but he also struck out a remarkable 19 Bulldog batters. That is the third-most for a pitcher in a single game in state history, and tied for the most for a player in a large school division. The last time it happened was 46 years ago.