By Kevin Wilson
Not many people — including the Portales Rams themselves — figured they’d jump out to a 6-0 start. Then again, some Rams were betting they wouldn’t be trailing Darren Stroik on the team’s home run list either.
Both of those became true Friday night with a 10-4, 13-2 doubleheader sweep over Eunice at Ram Field.
Portales coach Arturo Ontiveros said part of the hot start may have to do with playing a few smaller schools like Eunice. Otherwise, most figured the 2004 state runnerups would struggle early after losing six starters (five to graduation, one to a family move) and its top two pitchers.
“I can’t tell what our secret is,” Ontiveros said. “The kids really have fun, they’re doing the little things right.”
Portales trailed 2-0 in the first game, but the visiting Cardinals never threatened after the Rams put up a five-run third thanks to RBI singles from Tyler Rutherford and Jacob Lopez.
Between Rutherford (4-6, 6 RBI on the night) and Lopez (4-6, 5 RBI), the Rams had more than enough offense for pitchers Justin Gilchrist and Mario Salazar. Gilchrist allowed four runs — one unearned — with nine strikeouts in the opener, while Salazar shut the Cardinals out through four innings of work before letting Rutherford take over in relief.
“Mario and Gilchrist all year, their pitching has been lights out,” Ontiveros. “You put them on the mound and they take your worries away.”
The Rams put away the Cardinals in the bottom of the sixth inning in the opener with RBI singles by Rutherford, Lopez, Todd Mosier and Jordan Obenhaus.
Portales put the Cardinals away faster in the nightcap, as Rutherford his a three-run homer to punctuate a seven-run second. The senior catcher, like Ontiveros, couldn’t pinpoint what’s going so right so early for Portales.
Like his manager, he also credited the men on the mound.
“We’ve got good pitching this year,” Rutherford said. “We thought we’d have a little bit of trouble, but we’ve got Justin. We’d been working pretty hard over the offseason on our batting and fielding.”
Rutherford’s homer was his second of the year. He is one of two Rams to homer this season so far.
Stroik became the second in the bottom of the fourth, when he smacked his first pitch over the left-field fence in pinch-hitting duty. The two-run shot made the score 13-0, and the runs proved necessary for the run-ruled win as Rutherford allowed a two-run single in relief.
Stroik last homered in a junior varsity game in his sophomore year, according to teammates who said he’d never hit one again.
Proving them wrong, however, just felt like any other swing to the senior.
“It feels like you swing right through,” Stroik said. “You don’t even think about the hit. It happens every once in a while. It’s kind of nice.”
The Rams next play in a tournament in Silver City, Thursday through Saturday.