El Paso Bel Air’s Michael Lopez carried his Highlanders team with his bat and his arm Thursday night.
The senior right-hander pitched a six-inning complete game and delivered three hits and three RBIs at the plate as Bel Air knocked off Clovis High 7-4 in the opening round of the Clovis Invitational at Bell Park.
Lopez walked four and struck out five, allowing five hits. At the plate, he hit a tie-breaking, two-run single in the top of the fourth and added an RBI triple in the sixth.
“He’s definitely come along for us,” said Bel Air coach George Ceniceros, whose squad takes a 6-1 record into a 5 p.m. championship semifinal today against Santa Fe High. “Mike has done well all year. He made one mistake (a third-inning solo homer by CHS senior catcher Emery Sierra), but he didn’t let it get to him.”
The game was shortened to six innings because of the tournament’s two-hour time limit. Each of the first three games ended after five, either because of time or the run rule, with Rio Rancho beating El Paso Bowie 11-5, St. Pius taking out El Paso Del Valle 18-7 and Santa Fe edging Roswell Goddard 12-10.
Clovis faces Goddard in a noon consolation semifinal today.
The Wildcats (0-1) took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first, scoring on a balk and a wild pitch, but the Highlanders moved in front in the top of the second on a run-scoring single by George Nunez and a sacrifice fly by Ismael Valadez.
Sierra sent a 2-0 offering over the 379-foot sign in right-center with two out in the third to tie it, but Bel Air responded with three in the top of the fourth on the two-run single by Lopez and an RBI triple by Valadez.
“It was an intense ballgame, that’s for sure,” Ceniceros said. “We were just lucky to come out on top.”
Senior right-hander Lane Drake made his varsity debut for the Cats, pitching five-plus innings. He allowed all seven runs — five earned — on nine hits.
Drake pitched fairly well after a shaky start — he hit two batters within his first five pitches, but escaped the frame allowing only one run.
“It was probably tough on him, throwing him out there the first time out,” CHS assistant coach Drew Hatley said. “We’ve got all the confidence Lane’s next start will be better.”
Junior third baseman Rico Roybal went 2-for-3 for Clovis, including a run-scoring triple with no one out in the sixth. He was thrown out on a 5-3-2 double play trying to score on Sebastian Flores’ grounder to third.
“There’s no doubt we played hard, but give credit to Bel Air,” Hatley said. “We’re confident the kids will come back ready to play tomorrow morning.”