By Kevin Wilson
Sophomore Mario Salazar spent seven innings controlling the hitters of New Mexico Military Institute. Because of it, he and the Portales Rams will spend this weekend controlling their District 4-3A destinies at Lovington.
Salazar struck out five Colt batters in a 4-0 shutout in the nightcap, giving the Rams a sweep of visiting NMMI after rallying for an 8-7 victory in the opener.
With the sweep, Portales (14-10, 6-4 district) reduced its magic number to one and kept itself in the running for the District 4-3A championship. To clinch a playoff berth, the Rams need only one win in Saturday’s doubleheader against Lovington or one NMMI loss on Saturday — the Colts face Ruidoso in Saturday’s other doubleheader.
With a sweep, Portales would be the district champion.
Ram coach Arturo Ontiveros credited Salazar with his seven innings of work, at a point when a loss would have rendered the evening a wash.
“He pitched,” Ontiveros said. “He didn’t try to overpower guys. He just pitched a heck of a game.”
Salazar’s shutout followed an opener that saw the Rams fall behind 7-4, then win with a four-run seventh. The final blow was dealt by starting pitcher Justin Gilchrist, who hit the game-winning single.
Ontiveros and NMMI coach Charlie Ward both felt the opener gave the Rams confidence going into the second game, and Ward felt his team never got back on track against Salazar.
“He did a good job, kept us off balance,” Ward said. “We were trying to hit everything in the air.”
Salazar admitted that the first win did help his team in the second game, but it didn’t change his job once he took the mound in the nightcap.
“When it’s (your turn to pitch), you’ve got to throw well, even if you don’t have momentum,” Salazar said.
Salazar also helped his cause at the plate, with a two-run single in the sixth for insurance.
“I had (two strikes on me) and I choked up,” Salazar said, “and told myself I was going to put the ball in play, and it happened.”
Salazar faced only 13 batters over the final four innings, and was helped out by an unassisted double play from first baseman Jacob Lopez in the fourth.
Lovington’s Tuesday sweep of Ruidoso knocked the Warriors from playoff contention and put the Colts very close to the edge. The Colts need to sweep Ruidoso and have Lovington sweep on Saturday to earn a playoff spot.