Cats hold off Rio Rancho for Invite title

Clovis third baseman Jared Powers looks to second base after tagging Rio Rancho baserunner out on a squeeze attempt during Saturday’s Clovis Invitational championship game at Bell Park. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

The Clovis High baseball team made efficient use of limited offense Saturday night.

Held hitless for four innings by Rio Rancho right-hander Joey Garcia, the Wildcats put together a six-run fifth highlighted by two-run singles from Chase Denton and Matt Ulibarri to edge the Rams 6-5 in the finals of the Clovis Invitational baseball tournament at Bell Park.

Clovis won the event for the second time in the past three years. Rio Rancho won the title last year.

Junior Cade Wheeler went 5 1/3 innings for the win, allowing five hits with three walks and seven strikeouts en route to tourney MVP honors. Senior Daniel Casarez came in with four runs home in the sixth and retired all four batters he faced to earn the save.

“Cade threw well for not having any mound time,” CHS coach Shane Shallenberger said. “He had a low pitch count going into the sixth inning.”

Trailing 1-0, the Cats (3-0) went to work with one out in the bottom of the fifth.

Garcia booted Parker Wood’s slow roller for an error, then lost his no-hitter on a single by Wheeler. A throwing error by second baseman Wally Wink scored Wood from second, and Ulibarri slapped a sharp single past short to push the Cats in front 3-1.

Walks to Jonathan Ware and Sean Cruce loaded the bases and brought right fielder Patrick Mantano in to pitch. Mantano threw a run-scoring wild pitch, then gave up Denton’s single to cap the rally.

Wheeler said he was glad to get some runs to work with.

“I was pretty nervous,” Wheeler said. “We got (to the finals) last year, but we’ve all gotten a lot better.”

He said the long inning for the Cats was helpful.

“Actually, it kind of gave me a break,” he said. “I was getting pretty tired. I just thank God I got the opportunity to pitch.”

Rio Rancho (2-1) put together a four-run sixth that included a two-run triple by catcher Christopher Barthagen, who scored on a single by Ethan Gill.

“I was hoping we could at least go 2-1 coming in,” he said. “I’m real proud of everybody on the team. We went through a lot of adversity this weekend, but they did a good job.”

Casarez and Denton were also named to the all-tournament team, while seniors Mike Olson and Dean Sedillo represented Rio Rancho.