By Rick White
T.C. Nusser took the business approach to pitching. Location. Location. Location.
Moving his fastball around the strike zone, Nusser pitched Portales to a 3-2 win over Lovington, helping the Rams salvage the second game of Tuesday’s District 4-3A doubleheader at Ram Field.
Lovington won the opener 6-5, rallying for four runs in the top of the seventh inning, and in the process handing Ram ace Seth Clabaugh his first loss of the season.
Portales coach Greg Hill said Nusser came through in the Rams’ biggest game of the season.
“T.C. pitched one heck of a game,” Hill said. “He really hit his spots when he needed to.
“After a loss like that, you can do one of two things: Step up and gut it out or turn it down.”
With the split, Lovington (10-7-1, 3-1) still leads the district on percentage points.
Nusser, who finished with six strikeouts and two walks, doubled home a run in the second inning and the Rams (12-6, 4-2 district) tacked on a pair of unearned runs in the third to take a 3-1 lead.
Lovington first baseman Steven Roop, whose three-run home run won the opener, made things interesting again in nightcap, blasting a solo homer to straight-away center with one out in the seventh to make it 3-2.
But Nusser (3-2) didn’t flinch, retiring the next two batters on a dribbler in front of the mound and a routine fly to right.
Nusser said he was more upset about giving up Roop’s third home run of the day than he was worried.
“I was mad because I missed my spot,” he said. “But I knew it was just one run.”
Clabaugh (7-1) appeared in control in the opener, taking a 5-2 lead into the seventh.
Lovington’s rally started innocently enough with a one-out walk to Matt Palmer. Clabaugh hit the next batter before freshman pitch-hitter Manny Carreon flared a single to right that made it 5-3.
One out later, the left-handed hitting Roop drilled a 2-2 fastball over the left-center field fence.
“I didn’t go up there trying to hit a home run,” said Roop, who had never hit a home run at any level before Tuesday. “Coach just told me to hit it hard the first time (a two-run home run in the third) and that’s all I was thinking about.”
He said both home runs off Clabaugh were on fastballs on the outer half of the plate.
Hill said he had no thoughts of taking Clabaugh out in the seventh.
“He threw a good game,” Hill said. “Sometimes you just have to give the other guy credit.”
Portales took the lead with three runs in the sixth on a walk and four hits, including run-scoring singles by Kevin Cheatam and Nusser.
Palmer, who retired the side in the seventh, went the distance for Lovington.
Clabaugh allowed five hits, struck out 11 and walked three.