The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Clovis, Portales to open first-round games tonight

 


CLOVIS — Things so far have gone mostly well for the Clovis baseball team. But now, there’s jewelry on the line.

Class 6A championship rings are the reward if fourth-seeded Clovis is successful in its state title quest, which begins tonight at Bell Park with a first-round matchup against 13th-seeded Manzano.

Clear skies, 70-degree temperatures and minimal wind are in the forecast for the 7 p.m. start of today's game. What then transpires on the field is in the Wildcats’ control.

“This is what we’ve strived to participate in from the beginning of the year,” Clovis coach Richard Cruce said before Thursday afternoon’s practice at Bell Park. “And to be one of the top sixteen teams — actually being the fourth seed overall — is a good place for these kids. It’s the second time in school history we’ve ever hosted, so I hope it’s a good atmosphere.”

“It’s actually awesome,” Wildcats senior catcher Jace Piepkorn said, “because we get to host in front of our home town. Hopefully, we get a lot of people out ... get the community behind us.”

Game 2 of the series is a given, and will begin 11 a.m. Saturday at Bell Park. If there is a Game 3, it will start 30 minutes after the conclusion of the second game.

Clovis (21-5) saw its chance for a District 2-6A title slip away last Saturday after getting swept 2-1 and 7-0 at La Cueva. The Wildcats, though, still have their No. 1 goal within reach. It will take an arduous climb up a steep state-playoff hill, but they think they can get there by the end of next week.

Manzano (12-12) offers a familiar opponent for the ’Cats, a district foe they play twice a season. This year’s regular-season doubleheader was held April 7 at Bell Park, with Clovis sweeping 2-0 and 18-0, shutouts tossed respectively by Sebastian Nunez and Colson Faircloth.

The Wildcats have a pitching staff that seems tailor-made for a best-of-three situation, boasting three quality starters — Faircloth, Nunez and Connor Langrell — with the ability to confound hitters regularly. Obviously, Cruce hopes he’ll only have to use two of those hurlers in a nice little sweep of the Monarchs, but he has the depth should the series go three.

Coming out of the pen is Garrett Langrell, who was given relief work in both ends of a recent doubleheader against Sandia, so he’s proven he can go back-to-back.

Catching these pitchers is Piepkorn, who says there’s a very basic plan for success this weekend.

“We’ve just got to be us,” he said. “Just drive the ball the other way and play defense like we do.”

In the April twin bill against Manzano, Monarchs coach Tim Campos started Mitchell Parker, who has already committed to pitch for the University of Tennessee next year, in Game 1 of that doubleheader. The Wildcats eked out a 2-0 victory with just four hits in that one while Parker walked three and struck out 12.

Before Parker brings his arm to the Volunteers, Parker will try to help derail Clovis’ championship hopes. The Wildcats, though, are undaunted.

“We’re ready to face Parker,” Piepkorn said. “We’ve beaten him the last two times we’ve seen him. ... We don’t know when they’re going to pitch Parker, but we’d definitely like to beat him right away.”

In the spring of 2017, Connor Langrell and Parker went toe to toe, with the Wildcats coming out on top 1-0.

The Portales Rams (16-10) are also a fourth seed, and host West Las Vegas in defense of their Class 4A crown.

Ram coach Dusty Nusser plans to go with Josiah Lucero for the 7 p.m. Friday opener and Jordan Garcia for the 11 a.m. Saturday second game. Senior Damian Belden is initially tabbed to start the third game, but Nusser isn’t against using him in relief duty in either of the first two games.

Portales hasn’t faced West Las Vegas (11-13) this season, and the rosters for each team are decidedly different from when the Rams took a 17-1 victory in March of last year at the Rams’ home tournament.

“They’ve got a left-handed pitcher who’s really good,” Nusser said. “His record isn’t as good as he pitches. We’re going to have to do a good job of putting together some good at-bats. When teams have beat him, they’ve beat him 3-2 or 2-1.”

The tournament reverts to single elimination next week, with the Rams-Dons winner facing either NMMI or Santa Fe Indian in a 10 a.m. Thursday quarterfinal at Rio Rancho High School.

“We’ve had a really good week of practice,” Nusser said. “We haven’t done well on defense the last two weeks, so we’ve been working on that. Our pitchers have been throwing well enough to win. If they keep pitching like we have been and we play good defense behind them we should have a pretty good shot.”

 

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