Last year Rio Rancho (N.M.) lost early in the season to nationally ranked La Cueva (Albuquerque, N.M.), but the Rams pulled off the win when they needed to, defeating the Bears 6-5 for the New Mexico 5A state championship.
The Rams have already defeated La Cueva this year, 5-3, and are off to a 7-1 start after winning the Clovis Invitational Tournament over the weekend. Rio Rancho’s only loss so far is an 8-7 defeat to Socorro, the defending Texas 5A state champion.
The Rams are expected to return 10 lettermen off of last year’s team, including all-metro first baseman Blake Swihart, who batted over .500 for the season. Also back are all-state picks Josh Walker in the outfield, Ben Mathison at DH and Ethan McCreaney at catcher. La Cueva has already lost two games this season, which is what it lost all of last year when it went 29-2 with 29 straight wins. The Bears still should be a contender with all-state picks Ryan Padilla (CF), Josh McAlister (P) and Nathan Ross (1B) all returning.
The state champion Albuquerque Academy (N.M.) Chargers won’t be able to replace Max Walla, who was the state’s top player last year and was also a first-round MLB draft pick. However, eight lettermen return from last year’s 24-5 team that defeated Piedra Vista (Farmington, N.M.) 7-5 in the finals, including sophomore Alex Bregman, who was all-metro as a freshman last year.
Farmington (N.M.) won four straight 4A state titles before Albuquerque Academy ended the run last year. Farmington loses district MVP Kevin Domrzalski, but returns all-district players Sean Overlin (1B), Travis Montgomery, Kyler Berhost (OF), Dezmond Martinez (OF) and Chris Weaver (SS).
Piedra Vista, last year’s runner-up, also will contend thanks to the return of all-district players Jake McCasland (P/IF), Daimon Lovato (DH), Tim Bailey (SS), Dominic Valdez (P), Shilo McCall (OF) and Brandon Johnson (2B).
With only four seniors on the roster last year, Sandia Prep (Albuquerque, N.M.) still managed to go 24-5 and win the state title with a 6-4 win over Cobre. Top hitters Michael Eaton (.570, 9 HRs), Nick Nelson (.560, 7 HR), Derek Kessler (.568), C.J. Kinney (.411, 5 HR) and Alex Kyriakos (.407) all return. Kyriakos and Kinney also had 10 of Sandia Prep’s wins last year.
Loving (N.M.) has won four state titles in the past seven years, including two in a row. The Falcons had seven seniors on last year’s squad that went 18-2, but they also return 14 lettermen.
Texico (N.M.), last year’s runner-up, will be a team to watch as well. The Wolverines lost just two seniors from last year’s team that went 16-4-1.