Wildcats foil PHS’ bid

PNT staff

The Portales Rams had rival Lovington on the ropes Tuesday — not once, but twice.

Both times, the Wildcats were able to pick themselves off the deck with sixth-inning rallies, winning the opener 3-2 and the second game 6-4 to lock up the District 4-3A regular-season title.

Strong pitching performances by junior Mario Salazar in the first game and senior Justin Gilchrist in the second were foiled by the Wildcats (19-5, 10-0 district), who had already clinched a tie for the regular-season title before Tuesday’s games.

“Portales came out ready to play,” Lovington coach Robert Arreola said. “We had to play one of our better games to (win the opener), and it was the same for the second game.

“We’ve been in these situations more than once; we’ve done that (come from behind) a few times this year. A lot of the credit goes to our kids — they found a way to get it done.”

Salazar pitched no-hit ball for 4 1/3 innings and carried a 2-1 lead into the sixth, but an infield hit and a walk set the stage for Cody Payne’s two-run triple to the right-center field alley.

Lovington’s Manny Murillo was equal to the task, working out of a two-on, two-out jam in the sixth and pitching around a leadoff hit batsman in the seventh. Murillo allowed seven hits with no walks and two strikeouts.

Meantime, Salazar struggled with his control early, walking two in the first inning and giving up a run when Jorge Rivero scored on the back end of a two-out double steal. He then set down 13 of the next 15 batters through the fifth.

Salazar went the distance on a four-hitter, walking four and striking out seven.

Jake Leal, Portales’ No. 9 hitter, scored twice after infield singles to give the Rams (12-11, 4-6) a 2-1 lead. He came home on Antonio Lucio’s two-out single in the third and scored on Sammy Hightower’s opposite-field RBI double just inside the right field line in the fifth.

In the second game, Gilchrist carried a one-hitter and a 4-0 lead into the sixth before the Wildcats erupted for six runs — four earned — on six hits and three Portales errors. Three of the six singles in the inning were of the infield variety, including a suicide squeeze bunt by shortstop Seth Eubanks.

Gilchrist pitched six innings, allowing all seven Wildcats hits with three walks and six strikeouts. Lucio worked a 1-2-3 seventh with one strikeout.

Portales scored twice in the second on singles by Gilchrist and Brandon Adkins, a sacrifice by Lynn Pinedo, a run-scoring wild pitch and a double steal with Adkins sliding home safely on the back end. The Rams made it 3-0 in the third on Salazar’s RBI double, and added another run in the fourth without benefit of a hit when Lovington committed three errors.

Lovington senior Larry Garza pitched a five-hitter, retiring eight of the final nine Rams hitters. He walked three and struck out four.

“Our goal from the beginning was to be the No. 1 seed (in the Class 3A state playoffs),” Arreola said. “When you take care of business, you get rewarded.”