By Kevin Wilson: Quay County Sun
Dustin Russell found a way to break out of a slump. So, too, did the Tucumcari Rattlers.
Russell went 3-for-3 with two runs scored and hit a two-run double in a five-run second inning as Tucumcari finished off a Monday doubleheader sweep by beating District 3-2A rival Clayton 13-3 in six innings.
Tucumcari (12-9, 4-4 district) snapped a four-game losing streak by beating the visiting Yellowjackets 12-6 in the opener.
The sweep gives the Rattlers the No. 2 position in Thursday’s district tournament, though both Rattler coach Tony Alarcon and Clayton coach Wayne Morris admit seeding doesn’t mean much for the bottom two teams.
Tucumcari and Clayton will face each other in a 4 p.m. Thursday semfinal at Santa Rosa, with the winner facing the Lions in the 6 p.m. district championship.
Monday’s sweep ensured the Rattlers would have home-team designation in Thursday’s semifinal. More importantly, Alarcon felt it gave the Rattlers a boost going into Thursday.
“We needed this sweep to boost our confidence,” Alarcon said. “The boys played really well offensively and defensively.”
The Rattlers didn’t have momentum early in Monday’s games, falling behind each time. Tucumcari trailed 2-0 going into the bottom of the second, but put two runners on with a single by Adrian Prieto and a walk to Andre DeBord. Russell doubled along the third-base line to start the scoring, and the Rattlers never looked back.
Russell said just concentrating on getting a solid base hit instead of looking for the big hit was the key.
“It feels pretty good,” Russell said. “I’ve been in a slump and I finally broke out of it.”
Alarcon said the Rattlers batted well from the top of the lineup to the bottom, as evidenced by the team sending nine to the plate in the second and 10 in the third. He said Russell’s 3-for-3 day helped, as did DeBord (1-for-2 with two walks and two runs) at the No. 8 spot.
“That helps when your 7-8-9 guys are in a slump and the No. 9 guy goes 3-for-3,” Alarcon said.
Russell singled to load the bases in the third inning, and two batters later catcher Matt Garcia cleared them with a three-run triple.
The Rattler pitchers were up to the task, giving up three runs on four hits. Gabriel Anaya pitched the first three innings and Aric Trujillo finished the job by retiring nine of the 12 batters he faced in relief.
Tucumcari won via the 10-run mercy rule on a two-run single by DeBord with the bases loaded.
The six district champions in Class 2A will earn automatic bids to the state baseball tournament, May 10-12 in Albuquerque and Los Lunas. The two remaining bids will be awarded through a pair of regional tournaments involving district runner-up teams — the 3-2A runner-up would face the 2-2A runner-up next week, with the winner facing the 1-2A runner-up for a tournament berth.
None of it matters for the Rattlers, however, if Clayton wins Thursday.
“Our season rests on Thursday’s game against Clayton,” Alarcon said, “and I feel confident we can beat them if we play to our potential.”
Morris said after the doubleheader the Yellowjackets just didn’t show up to play, and they’re lucky to have a playoff system that gives them a second chance.
“That’s the beauty of baseball,” Morris said. “You get to move on and play again. It’s not over yet. It’s not over until Thursday (for the semifinal loser).”
Tucumcari has to win at least two more games to advance to the state tournament, and Russell hopes Monday’s victories help put the Rattlers back on a winning path.
“It gives us a huge boost of momentum,” Russell said, “and it kind of demoralizes (Clayton) because they know we can beat them.”