By Kevin Wilson: PNT Staff Writer
With a solid rotation coming back and a larger playoff field, the Portales Rams have little doubt that they’ll make the Class 3A baseball playoffs in May. Their biggest doubt is if they’ll score enough runs when they get there.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good chance,” said senior catcher Lynn Pinedo. “If we play up to par, we should do some damage.”
The Rams started practice in mid-January and are 10 days away from a scrimmage against Clovis.
The Rams were eliminated in the first round of last year’s state playoffs, when they ran into Cobre ace Ron Amador and took a 19-1 defeat. This year, Portales coach Arturo Ontiveros is hopeful the Rams can have the advantage in pitching matchups.
“This year it seems like we’ve got a lot of pitching, which is never a bad thing,” Ontiveros said. “We’ve got five guys we’re pretty comfortable with on the mound.”
Portales, which finished 14-13 last season, returns its top two starting pitchers in Justin Gilchrist and Mario Salazar. Ontiveros said that he likes what he has seen so far from Sammy Hightower, Antonio Lucio and Lawrence Gamble after the first few weeks of practice.
With any of those five pitching, Ontiveros feels the team has a good chance to win.
“I think our defense is going to be all right,” Ontiveros said. “We’re going to be able to make the routine plays.”
The question, though, will be hitting. The Rams lost three .300 hitters and a significant amount of power hitting with the graduations of Tyler Rutherford, Jacob Lopez and Eric Ornelas.
Pinedo, who steps in for Rutherford at catcher, knows better than anybody that offense is going to be the biggest variable for the Rams.
“We need to swing the sticks, that’s the biggest thing,” Pinedo said. “(Our) pitchers were good last year, but we just didn’t give them enough run support.”
After scrimmaging Clovis, the Rams will conduct their annual 100-inning game, a fund-raising endeavor where players receive pledges for innings played. The money goes to buy new equipment or pay for incidentals on the road. Ontiveros said he encourages his players to seek donations from individuals because local businesses usually donate money to the program in exchange for advertising along the outfield walls.
Portales opens its season March 9 in Levelland, Texas, the start of a three-day tournament. That is the same weekend as the state basketball tournament, so Ontiveros is assuming he won’t have players coming in until that weekend concludes. Of the players currently active in basketball, Ontiveros figures that at least three of them are good enough to start.
“I definitely think we’ve got a chance (for a state championship),” Ontiveros said. “Even though we lost those big guys in the lineup, with the core guys here we have a chance.”