FARMINGTON — Two of the top pitchers in New Mexico matched each other pitch for pitch in a matchup of the state's two best summer select teams.
The Albuquerque Baseball Academy's 18-and-under team visited Ricketts Park for the first time ever on Tuesday, playing Farmington's Strike Zone Baseball team in the morning game of a three-team triple header. It was the first time the two teams had met up for a game inside the state.
Piedra Vista High graduate Ian Doughty pitched a marvelous game against ABA's lineup, which is loaded with Division I talent. He struck out four while pitching a complete seven innings. He didn't issue a walk and gave up just five hits while throwing 90 pitches.
But a fielding error by Strike Zone in the top of the seventh inning, followed by a bloop single, gave ABA a 1-0 lead, which was all ABA pitcher and Albuquerque Academy graduate Tyler Buffett needed to take a 1-0 win.
"I knew whoever got the first run was going to win the game, and I am glad it was us," said Buffett, who will play for Oklahoma State University this fall. "After the first inning, I told myself to pound the zone and start getting more ground balls. After that, we did and threw up quite a few zeroes up on the scoreboard. It was cool to look at."
Buffett went the complete game, throwing just 89 pitches. He allowed only three hits and struck out six. He also didn't issue a walk.
"It was pretty great. I have never played here. I had been here once before and knew it would be fun to play here, and it was a great experience," he said. "It is the first time I have gotten a win against Piedra Vista guys, and I was happy about that. I know they generally know how I throw, and I know generally how they hit, so it was a really good game to pitch in."
ABA scored in the top of the seventh inning after Zak Felix reached first base on an error on a ball hit in the infield. A throw by shortstop Jeremy Johnson pulled first baseman Jacy Cave off the bag, allowing Felix to be safe. Felix then stole second base and scored on a flair to left-centerfield off the bat of designated hitter Evan Offutt.
"I coach Evan in the spring at Rio Rancho, and that kid has been clutch all year," said ABA coach Lauro Felix. "He is listed as a pitcher only, but (pitching coordinator) Ryan Brewer said go ahead and give him some at bats. He is hard to strike out and puts it in play. His hit happened to drop in to get us that run. When we scored that run, I knew we had a god chance of coming out on top with the way Buffett was mowing people down. I wanted to get a lot of kids going pitching today, but when a kid is up there mowing people down like that, there is not much you can do."
Buffett was able to use offspeed pitches to keep Strike Zone off balance, just as he did in the 4A state quarterfinals this spring against Farmington High.
ABA managed only three hits at the plate in the first six innings. Each time a runner reached, Strike Zone turned a double play.
"It was a good, quality outing by Ian and a good all-around game played by both teams," said Strike Zone head coach Adam Morrissey. "When you play a good game like that, one little thing will bite you, and that is what happened to us. We will take all the positives from a game like that because it was well played on both ends. In games like that, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."
Despite the loss, Doughty was encouraged by his performance and said the team will move on to fight bigger battles this season.
"It is good to know I can keep up with one of the best arms in New Mexico. I just tried to go out and make a statement," Doughty said. "We are way motivated (to play ABA next week), but right now we have to focus on our weekend in Pueblo, Colo."
Lauro Felix knew it was going to be a hard matchup against Doughty, who has pitched for ABA in the past.
"We know what kind of arm he has. When our boys saw him warming up, they knew we would get some good pitching," he said. "Ian held us down for awhile and threw strikes."
In the afternoon, ABA defeated Rocky Mountain Baseball Club out of Grand Junction, Colo., 5-0 in seven innings. ABA scored four times in the first inning to control the game throughout.
Kenny Hanson pitched a complete game against Grand Junction. ABA swept the doubleheader at Ricketts Park without giving up a run all day.
ABA and Strike Zone will meet again June 19 in Albuquerque for two games at the University of New Mexico's Lobo Field. They could also meet up this weekend in Pueblo.
"Every time we play them, we know it will be a battle. Their kids play hard," Lauro Felix said. "We know most of the kids from PV and the surrounding areas, and every time it is a close game. As long as the relationship with Brewer and the Strike Zone and (PV head coach) Mike McGaha stays good, we will keep doing these games. The boys all get along really well, and we will welcome them to our place next week. As far as coming up to Ricketts, it is a short ride with good baseball and a great facility. Why not come up?"
ABA hopes to be back at Ricketts Park in August for the Connie Mack World Series if it can qualify at the South Plains Regional Tournament.
"I want to be back here," Buffett said. "If we can play like we did today, we will have a good shot. If we pick up the hitting a bit, we will be there."