Just three weeks into the baseball season and with both teams still trying to find an identity, crosstown rivals Farmington and Piedra Vista will meet at Ricketts Park today.
Farmington High rallied from a 4-0 first inning deficit to defeat Aztec 6-4 after Piedra Vista handled Los Lunas 4-0 as each team advanced to the 27th Annual Farmington Scorpion Invitational Baseball Tournament championship game.
"I think both sides would prefer not to play each other five times in a year, but hopefully that is what it ends up being. This tournament, their tournament next weekend, two district games and then once in the state tournament," said FHS head coach Sean Trotter about facing the Panthers this early. "We know what we are going to get. PV is a good club and they are the three-time defending state champs. We have to respect that but come out and focus on playing our game."
The Scorpions (4-3) didn't get rattled when Aztec (4-2) jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first inning thanks to RBI singles by Dalton Watson and Devin Cole. Two more Tigers came in to score on Watson's single when it got past Scorpions left fielder Matt Huffhines.
With Division I verbal commit Tyson Curley on the mound for Aztec, the Scorpions knew they had to take their time at the plate.
Farmington started slowly crawling back into the game, scoring once in the second inning on a Tyler Stock sacrifice fly that brought home Elias Blackwater.
In the third inning, the Scorpions saw Austin Davis cross the plate on a Colby Nelson RBI-single.
A Frankie Gutierrez single in the fourth inning scored Ethan Spellbring, who doubled to leadoff the bottom of the fourth, and then the Scorpions tied the game in the fifth when Easton Haskill stepped up in a pinch-hit situation with an RBI-single to score Beamer Wick.
"It was a tough spot, but the kid is 4-for-4 or 3-for-3 on the season now. Every time he has gone to the plate, he has got a base knock," said Trotter of Haskill, who is a sophomore. "Hey, good job, rook. We definitely like what we see."
The Scorpions chased Curley off the mound after 4 1-3 innings after he threw 103 pitches.
Before being relieved by Dylan Stinson, Curley allowed four hits and four runs while striking out three and walking six.
"We did a great job. Curley is definitely a talented plus-arm. We did a great job staying in the zone," Trotter said. "We only expanded the strike zone a fist full of times."
Wick hit the big blast in the bottom of the sixth inning to give Farmington its first lead of the game.
He blasted a triple to the bottom of the right-center field fence, scoring Davis in the process.
An errant relay throw to third base soared into the Farmington dugout, allowing Wick to take home and giving the Scorpions their 6-4 advantage.
"I haven't been getting solid hits lately so, when I got that pitch, I knew I had to do something big," Wick said.
Wick also earned the win on the mound for Farmington in relief of Gutierrez.
Wick went three innings and gave up just two hits while walking four.
He issued two walks in the top of the seventh before recording an out, and a Ripp Watkings single to center field looked like it might allow a Tigers run, but Davis threw a dart from cetner field to Blackwater behind the plate and Blackwater laid a tag on Tanner Moore to record the out at the plate.
"In a 6-4 ball game and getting toward the bottom of the lineup, we try to make things happen and be aggressive. We tried to get him across, but (Davis) made a great play," said Aztec assistant coach Brett Alexander. "That is baseball at its finest right there. He made a perfect play."
Wick worked his way out of trouble to finish off the win for Farmington.
"In the last inning, I was way nervous" he said. "I just didn't want to lose it for us, so I just threw strikes."
Gutierrez was sharp in his first start since coming back from basketball season. A few pitches were flat in the first inning, but he picked up momentum as the game went on.
In four innings of work, Gutierrez allowed five hits and four runs — two earned — while striking out two and walking three.
Before Gutierrez toed the rubber, Ian Doughty had his own solid day pitching for Piedra Vista (5-1).
Doughty pitched the Panthers past Los Lunas with nine strikeouts while allowing just three hits in six innings of work.
He threw 99 pitches on just three days rest, but still hit 90 miles per hour on the gun for the first time.
"I was very happy with my performance. I had some great defense behind me, which always gives me more confidence," Doughty said. "Being able to throw hard is always a plus, but it doesn't mean anything if you can't control it. I felt like I commanded my fast ball well with the speed so the 90 mph ball is icing on top of the cake."
Doughty faced a talented Los Lunas offensive lineup but only allowed a Los Lunas runner to reach second base twice.
Nate Dominguez came in and worked a perfect seventh inning to record the save.
PV had a chance to jump on Los Lunas early with bases loaded and no outs in the first inning, but the Panthers failed to score until the third inning when Jacy Cave hit an RBI-single to plate Matt Martin.
"We almost had the exact same situation in the bottom of the sixth inning where we had runners in scoring position with less than two outs," McGaha said of the missed opportunities at the plate. "We cannot continue to go out there and have runners on second and third or bases loaded with less than two outs and not put balls in play. We have to put pressure on the defense and we are not doing it in that situation."
PV was able to extend its lead in the sixth inning with two valuable runs as Martin drew a bases-loaded walk to bring home Kody Russell and Jeremy Johnson had an RBI-single to plate Chris Franks.
Franks also scored in the fourth inning on a wild pitch.
Ruger Rodrgiuez went the distance on the mound for Los Lunas, allowing five hits and four runs while recording three strikeouts and allowing six walks and hitting a batter.
Opening pitch for today's rivalry game is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at Ricketts Park.
McGaha also expressed his thoughts on the prospect of playing Farmington five times this year.
"Honestly, it is not ideal. It isn't appealing at all," he said. "It has just gotten to the point where, economically in the state of New Mexico, it is very hard to find teams willing to travel with the threat of weather and the cost it is to bring a team up here and stay the night and feed them and do all that. I hate to see Farmington have to play Aztec today and then us tomorrow.
"It has always been a 1-4A thing where you wait until district and keep as many secrets as you can possibly have until them, but we will take what we are dealt. We have a mutual respect among all the coaches here, and I expect it will be a really good game again."
John Livingston may be reached at email@example.com or 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.