By Kevin Wilson
Portales senior Jacob Lopez said after Saturday’s doubleheader against Ruidoso that you have to put the ball in play to have any chance of success in high school baseball.
A series split against the visiting Warriors only bolstered his case.
The Rams put very little into play against Ruidoso and pitcher Justin Sergeant en route to a 9-2 opening loss. In the nightcap, won 4-3 by Portales, Lopez drove in the go-ahead run by simply putting the ball in play after a reversed call gave the Rams an extra opportunity.
With the split, Portales (12-10, 4-4 district) remains in a tie for second place in District 4-3A. However, the Rams are now tied with New Mexico Military Institute instead of Lovington, by virtue of Lovington (8-11, 5-3) sweeping NMMI on Saturday.
With the split, Ruidoso (8-12, 3-5) remains in fourth place, but is only two games out of the district lead and hosts Lovington Tuesday in a doubleheader.
“It’s a dog fight for this district,” Portales coach Arturo Ontiveros said. “Everybody’s pretty decent, so it’s up for grabs.”
The Rams host NMMI in Tuesday’s other doubleheader.
Ruidoso coach Jerrett Perry said that he feels the top five teams in the state may just be Cobre and the four teams in 4-3A. With splits against NMMI, Lovington and Portales, he feels the Warriors have shown to this point that they belong.
“We have worked on our weaknesses, we’ve practiced,” Perry said. “We’re a good baseball team. If we can beat (Portales), we can beat any team in the state.”
The Warriors had a chance to beat Portales twice, but never scored after taking a 3-0 lead in the first two innings of the nightcap. Mario Salazar allowed just four hits over the next four innings, and Tyler Rutherford crushed a third-inning pitch to right field for a two-run shot that tied up the game at three apiece.
Two innings later, Portales took the lead on a second chance. Salazar grounded out to second for what would have been the second out, but the call was reversed on the home plate umpire. The umpire said that Sergeant — who was playing first base in the second game — pulled his foot off of first while receiving the throw.
Two batters later, the Rams had the bases loaded with Lopez up to bat.
“As a senior with the experience I have, you’re expected to come through,” Lopez said. “Luckily, I just got a good pitch.”
Lopez’ hit barely reached the outfield grass, but made enough trouble for the Warriors that pinch runner Jordan Obenhaus scored easily on the play.
Salazar protected the lead, retiring the Warriors’ final six batters in order. Salazar allowed eight hits, but just four in the final five innings.
“Mario pitched a good game and gave us a chance,” Lopez said. “All in all, we played pretty decent.”
Ruidoso 9, Portales 2
Sergeant fell behind early against Portales but dominated late and finished with 13 strikeouts.
After giving up two runs in the first inning, Sergeant pitched five hitless innings and retired 17 consecutive hitters at one point.
Perry said that Sergeant, who has 82 strikeouts this season, has been under the radar for most of the season.
“He’s 6-5 and weighs 270 and he throws it well,” Perry said of Sergeant. “He’s a premier pitcher.”
Ruidoso took control of the game with four-run efforts in the second and third innings.