Even on a day with the wind blowing out, this could easily have evolved into a pitcher’s duel.
Albuquerque Academy ensured that it did not.
Class 4A’s top-ranked Chargers (18-4, 4-0) assumed solo first place in District 6-4A baseball on a cold afternoon in the North Valley, pulling away late in a 14-2 victory over Valley (11-11, 3-1).
In a battle of aces, it was Academy senior right-hander Alex Gaeto (3-2) who outpitched Valley junior lefty Alex Gilliam as Gaeto surrendered two runs over six innings, striking out eight.
The Chargers gave Gaeto all the support he’d need in the top of the third. A three-base Valley error plated the game’s first run, followed by RBI singles from Mark McNaney (a suicide squeeze) and Henry Mitchell.
For Academy, facing Gilliam was a sign the Chargers have adapted; Several weeks ago at the Rio Rancho tournament, the Chargers lineup was stifled by Carlsbad lefty Mack Mabrey in a 1-0 loss in which Gaeto was the hard-luck loser.
“We’ve had struggles with left-handers in the past, but that Carlsbad game really solidified our mentality that we’ve got this against the good left-handed guys,” said Mitchell.
Academy scored the game’s first eight runs Tuesday as Mitchell added a two-RBI double in a four-run sixth.
A pair of RBI ground balls in the bottom of the sixth got Valley on the board, but otherwise Gaeto was in control, relying repeatedly on his curveball as an out pitch.
“He’s got really good stuff. When he’s on, he’s really tough,” Chargers coach Chris Alexander said. “He’s just a heck of a competitor. He doesn’t want to give anyone anything.”
Academy tackled on six more runs in the seventh. Devan Johnson hit a three-run double to center for an 11-2 lead, and Dominic Baca swatted a three-run home run to center two batters later.
“We expected this to be a dogfight,” said Gaeto. “We know Alex Gilliam; we saw him last year, and honestly, I thought he did a good job. His team made a few miscues and we took advantage of that.”
The teams meet again April 29 at Academy. But the defending state champion Chargers, who have won eight straight, are gathering momentum.
“We’re playing well right now,” Alexander said. “We’ve had some tough losses, but … we’re in a pretty good spot right now. We just have to keep the train on the tracks, and we’ll be all right.”
— James Yodice
RIO RANCHO 9, VOLCANO VISTA 8: At Rio Rancho, cousins Jaymin Fitak and Kai Fitak probably didn’t expect this outcome, but Kai held the winning hand for the Rams (19-3, 3-1 in 1-5A).
Senior Jaymin Fitak (4-2) started the game for the Hawks (12-7, 2-2 in 1-5A) on a horrendously windy day, and he was charged with all the Rams’ runs.
Junior Kai Fitak relieved Rams starter Devon Alvarado in the fourth, after Tony Leger’s grand slam put the Hawks ahead 8-7.
Jaymin Fitak walked Izaiah Tafoya to start the fifth, and shortstop Jordan Baca’s wild throw to first gave the Rams two base runners. Casen Savage doubled them home and the scoring was complete.
Five errors doomed the Hawks, who also lost to Rio Rancho last month in the metro final.
Kai Fitak (2-0), the Rams’ starting third baseman, had an RBI triple against his cousin in the first inning and an RBI double in the second, as the Rams built a 7-2 lead after two innings.
— Gary Herron