By Kevin Wilson
The Portales Rams are having trouble finishing what they started.
The Rams routed New Mexico Military Institute 13-3 to start a District 4-3A doubleheader behind a solid performance from senior pitcher Seth Clabaugh.
Clabaugh’s seventh victory of the season, and a 12-4 Portales lead early in the nightcap, were two reasons to believe the Rams would have sole possession of first place in the district by the end of the night.
Instead, the visiting Colts used a nine-run fourth to take the lead, and held off a ridiculous Ram rally to claim a 23-19 win Tuesday at Ram Field.
It was the same situation the Rams ran into Friday against Ruidoso — a dropoff for the second game. This time, the Rams didn’t escape unscathed.
“We’ve got to play with intensity in both ends of the doubleheader,” Portales coach Greg Hill said. “For some reason, we’re not keeping the same intensity in the second game of doubleheaders.”
Considering the Colts start, NMMI coach Charlie Ward wasn’t disappointed with the finish.
“We got a split and that’s always positive,” Ward said. “We talked about a never-say-die attitude, and we showed it.”
By the time the lights went out on the field a little before 11 p.m., NMMI (10-8, 3-1) and Portales (11-3, 3-1) had combined to play nearly seven hours of baseball, with 58 runs on 43 hits, 15 errors and 27 men left on base.
When the schools met in November for a football game, the teams combined to score only 39 points (all by Portales).
A one-out single by Mario Salazar, one of five pitchers the Rams used in the second game, started the seventh-inning rally. A walk to Ryan Acosta and a single by Tyler Rutherford loaded the bases for Clabaugh, who cleared them with a grand slam.
Kevin Cheatham (single) and T.C. Nusser (walk) reached base and scored on a double by Jacob Lopez to cut the deficit to four, but Adam Camp struck out Todd Mosier to end the threat.
A three-run blast from Rutherford in the first and a leadoff homer in the third inning from Clabaugh helped Portales to its early lead.
In the fourth, the Colts went through a trio of Portales pitchers — starter T.C. Nusser and relievers Tyler Ryen and Kevin Cheatham — for nine runs and a 13-12 lead.
“We finally woke up in that fourth inning, and our bats came alive,” Ward said. “When we tied it 12-12, I knew we had a shot because Camp held them in check. The rest was history.”
The Rams committed two crucial errors in the inning, but got out of it on a Colt error — Sam Pittman failed to touch third base en route to what would have been the 14th NMMI run.
“They seem to piece together … errors, walks, hit batsmen,” Hill said. “They hit the ball hard too, but they just scored a lot of runs. There were times that we were just bad. A play here, a play there and it could have got worse for us, and we made some plays that could have been worse for them.”
The Colts scored 10 more runs off a pair of freshman pitchers — Ryan Acosta and Salazar. The Rams were almost knocked out on the 10-run rule in the sixth, but kept the game alive when Rutherford scored on a passed ball to make the score 22-13.
The first game saw a few problems, but Clabaugh was able to fight his way through it. Clabaugh shut the Colts out through the first four innings on 56 pitches, but needed 47 pitches to get out of a three-run fifth.
When Reid Marley scored on a passed ball, it was the first run Clabaugh had given up since a March 18 game against Littlefield, Texas. Brett Stokes and James Martin also scored in the inning, coming in on a two-run single from Nate Post.
Clabaugh went 4-for-6 on the night, with his two homers and six RBIs. Rutherford went 4-for-8 with five RBIs and seven runs scored.
Marcus Bolden led NMMI, going 3-for-7 with five RBIs.
The Wildcats swept Ruidoso Tuesday night for a 2-0 district mark and the lead in the District 4-3A race. However, Lovington will have a rough stretch to start May — doubleheaders against Portales (May 1) and NMMI (May 4) in four days.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Ward said. “Lovington’s in a tough spot, and I like that. I like our position, but we’ve got to play better.”
The Rams host Lubbock Christian Friday in a 5 p.m. non-district game.