Robertson splits doubleheader with St. Michael’s to win district
LAS VEGAS, N.M. — A lot has been made of speeding up Major League Baseball games by putting a timer on the pitcher.
No need to worry about that when Brandon Lucero, a righthander who streaks his face from lashes to jawline in eyeblack, takes the mound for Las Vegas Robertson.
Once he settles into the kind of rhythm he had against visiting St. Michael’s on Saturday, the Cardinals junior needs no more than 5 or 6 seconds to get the ball back from the catcher and follow through on his next pitch. At one point in the fifth inning of the doubleheader opener, he blazed through a five-pitch at bat in 41 seconds and was done striking out the side in less than two and a half minutes.
He needed just 4 seconds to deliver the game’s final pitch, a fastball that Horsemen leadoff man Marcos Leyba lined to the shortstop to nail down a 2-1 Robertson win and clinch the District 2-4A championship for the Cardinals (21-4, 10-2).
The Horsemen bounced back to win the late game, 17-5, to earn a split.
Ranked No. 1 in two polls for Class 4A this past week, Robertson is expected to land the top overall seed when pairings for the state tournament are revealed Sunday afternoon. St. Michael’s (16-10, 9-3) is likely to land either the No. 5 or 6 seed.
The top eight seeds in 4A through 6A are awarded homefield advantage for this week’s best-of-3 opening round series.
“I think we should be the top team,” Lucero said. “We haven’t seen all the teams out there, but we’ve done everything we need to.”
Needing no worse than a split in Saturday’s doubleheader, Robertson turned to Lucero in the opener. Pitching opposite Horsemen starter Sean Latham, he gave up five hits and walked two, but he struck out 10 and finished with six strikeouts in his final three innings.
Modeling his unorthodox delivery after major leaguer Johnny Cueto, Lucero (now 10-0 with an ERA hovering around 1.70) said he needs two things to happen every time he climbs the hill:
“I have to work fast, like really fast,” he said. “The slower I go, the more tired I get. I need the batters to get in there and be ready because it’s all about timing for me.”
The second? He has to have Antonio Cordova behind the plate.
The mere mention of that brings a smile to Cordova’s face.
“Me and him, we go way back,” he said. “The big thing with Brandon is keeping him calm. He’s really, I don’t know, competitive. He knows me. I can work fast just like him, so the important thing is getting him his signals and being ready because he gets mad when it takes too long.”
Mad, like when Cordova misfired a throw back to the mound and the ball dribbled about 15 feet to Lucero’s side. Mad, like when Lucero motioned the throat-slash sign to the dugout after he allowed runners to reach first and third in the fourth inning.
“With Brandon, it’s all about keeping him calm, but not too calm if that makes any sense,” said Robertson head coach Rick Armijo. “I mean, the guy can throw about six different pitches and he believes he can throw every one of them for strikes, but we just need to find three that are working and have him focus on just those and nothing else.”
Latham struggled with his command early, walking four batters in the first two innings. He gave up a leadoff single to Austen King to start the second, then walked Antonio Padilla. One out later, he issued a free pass to Caleb Marrujo to load the bases.
Batting ninth in the Robertson order, Isaiah Ortiz gave his team all the offense it needed with a routine grounder to second. King and Padilla scored, giving Lucero a 2-0 cushion.
“If I can get up early, it helps relax me and I can start moving even faster,” he said.
The Horsemen answered back with a one-out triple by Leyba in the top of the third, which was followed by a sacrifice fly by Derek Martinez. They had at least one runner on in three of the next four innings but couldn’t do any damage. That included a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the sixth that ended with consecutive strikeouts.
Lucero bounced off the mound with a ferocious fist pump after fanning James Hena on a full count with two outs and the bases full.
“I’m an emotional player, I guess,” Lucero said.
Aiden Gantt hammered a one-out double to left in the final inning, but Lucero was once again up to the challenge. The third out touched off a mild celebration in the middle of the diamond, the highlight of which was Armijo getting bear-hugged off the ground by his son, Cardinals shortstop Richard Armijo.
“I think we knew could be in this spot, but  wins and a district championship; I think some people might be surprised,” Rick Armijo said.
Two Robertson coaches were ejected early in the second game after arguing with the umpires. … The Cardinals had only three hits off Latham. The Horseman starter settled down after the first two innings, striking out five without a walk in the next four frames. … Latham was 2-for-2 with a walk, but St. Michael’s stranded six runners — all but one of which was in scoring position. … For movie buffs, Robertson’s homefield is on the campus of Memorial Middle School, which was the set for the Soviet invasion scene in the 1984 film Red Dawn starring Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell and Lea Thompson. Memorial was fictionalized as Calumet, Colo., High whose mascot, Wolverines, was used to identify the resistance.