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

Wildcats advance in baseball playoffs

 

May 6, 2018

Jamie Cushman

Clovis senior Sebastian Nunez slides under the glove of Manzano senior pitcher Mitchell Parker to score the tying run in the fourth inning while Manzano senior catcher Kevin Gutierrez and Clovis senior batter Joe Gallegos look on during the Wildcats' 10-3 win in their class 6A championship first-round matchup on Saturday at Bell Park.

CLOVIS — Small ball proved a recipe for success Saturday as the Clovis Wildcats advanced in the Class 6A baseball playoffs, tying a school record for wins in the process.

Slowly, but surely, the 'Cats rallied from a two-run deficit, beating Manzano, 10-3, and earning a spot in Albuquerque for Thursday's quarterfinal round. Fourth-seeded Clovis will next play fifth-seeded Carlsbad at the University of New Mexico (4 p.m.).

The Wildcats are 23-5, matching their win total from 2004 when they reached the state tournament finals for the only time in school history. They earned the right to advance amid summery temperatures at Bell Park, a place where conditions were cold and miserable just a week and a half earlier. It was an all-around ideal way for the Wildcats to bid adieu to their home field, one of the state's nicer baseball facilities.

"It's a good thing. It's good for these kids, they deserve it," Clovis coach Richard Cruce said. "We're going (to Albuquerque) with the mindset that we're going to try to win this thing. We're not satisfied yet."

"It's pretty big," said Clovis junior Anthony Gonzales, who scored the run that gave his team its first lead of the day and later added a two-run single. "It's the first time (advancing to Albuquerque) has happened in a while, so we're going up there to keep doing what we do."

"I think we're all excited. I really am, I'm really excited," Wildcats senior starting pitcher Colson Faircloth said after tossing a complete game that included nine strikeouts.

"Hats off; that Clovis team has great chemistry and they play well together," Manzano's second-year coach Tim Campos said. "They earned it. I hope they go out and finish the job."

The Wildcats weren't flashy on Saturday, they didn't do a lot of big bopping. Like in Friday's 10-0 Game 1 victory in the best-of-three series, the 'Cats played mostly small ball, capitalized on mistakes, started slow and built toward an avalanche of runs that was just too much for Manzano. They even chased University of Tennessee-bound pitcher Mitchell Parker from the game in the sixth inning when he reached the maximum pitch count of 120.

As for Clovis' pitching, Faircloth steadily ground it out. By his own admission, he wasn't zipping the ball in; he scattered eight Manzano hits, six of which had been recorded through the first four innings. But thanks to his focus and some sterling defense behind him, Faircloth weathered the Monarch bats.

"I felt good for the most part," he said. "I didn't have my best stuff, but I had good enough stuff to compete today and find a way to win."

"He did a good job of competing without his best stuff today," Cruce said. "I'm proud of him."

Helping out was the crisp defense that included a diving catch from left fielder Cam Kuykendall and a sliding catch by center fielder Joe Gallegos. Clovis also caught two Monarchs in rundowns, and catcher Jace Piepkorn nailed another one trying to swipe second base, notching the game's next-to-last out and preventing Faircloth from having to throw too many more pitches.

"We pride ourselves on good defense," Cruce said. "I still think we have the best outfield in the state."

Faircloth's endurance prevented Cruce from having to dip into his bullpen for Garrett Langrell, keeping the reliever daisy-fresh for the upcoming week. On that subject, big brother Connor Langrell didn't have to pitch a Game 3, so he should also be sharp for Albuquerque.

Manzano did get to Faircloth as early as the second inning, stringing together a Zeke Fox double and Jace Melfi single on consecutive one-out at-bats to grab a 1-0 lead. The Monarchs made it 2-0 in the top of the fourth, when an errant throw past home allowed Aaron Clark to score from third after a bunt by teammate Dakota Cummings.

Clovis rebounded quickly, however, tying it in the bottom of the fourth without the benefit of a hit off Parker. With one out, Kayden Shober walked, took second on a wild pitch and third on a passed ball while Sebastian Nunez was batting. After Nunez walked, Shober scored the Wildcats' first run on another passed ball, and Nunez took second, all with Faircloth at the plate. Faircloth then grounded out, sending Nunez to third, and another ball in the dirt brought Nunez home with the game-tying run.

Gallegos was up at the time, and though he eventually struck out — Parker's eighth victim of the day — his 10-pitch at-bat drove up the future Volunteer's pitch count.

Jamie Cushman

Clovis senior starter Colson Faircloth rang up nine strikeouts in a complete-game victory on Saturday.

More Clovis small ball followed in the bottom of the fifth. Gonzales and Kuykendall began the half-inning by reaching on consecutive errors, then advanced to third and second respectively on another passed ball. They couldn't advance on a Connor Langrell ground out, but with Piepkorn up, the suicide squeeze was on. Gonzales got such a good jump off third, he was most of the way home before Piepkorn's squared-around bat even met the ball, and just after Piepkorn's bunt, Gonzales raced in with the go-ahead run.

"Jace did a good job of getting the bunt, which made it easier for me," Gonzales said.

Clovis began the bottom of the sixth with Shober reaching on a dropped third strike. The bases were soon loaded, and soon after that, Shober was forced home when Gallegos was plunked, the play that ended Parker's outing and opened the door for Clovis to add six more runs in the inning.

"The first three innings I thought we struggled a little bit against Parker," Cruce said. "We talked about it — we were going to compete and make him throw pitches. And we just battled and eventually got to their bullpen and broke things open."

 
 

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