Clovis High junior Keaton Howell dives in safely on a pickoff play at first base in the Wildcats’ semifinal game against Levelland Friday in the Clovis Invitational at Bell Park. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
Clovis senior Sean Cruce may be too young to ever be on the same baseball team as his older brother. But on Friday night, he got a chance to be on the same field with him — in opposite dugouts — as the Wildcats beat Levelland 12-2 to move into the finals of the Clovis Invitational at Bell Park.
Richard Cruce, a 1997 Clovis High graduate, is an assistant coach for Levelland.
Defending champion Rio Rancho, which beat the Cats 2-0 in last year’s title clash, rolled over Deming 12-1 in the first semifinal matchup. The final is set for 5 p.m. today.
For the first part of Friday’s clash, one Cruce watched the other struggle from the mound. Sean Cruce, the starting pitcher for the Wildcats, gave up a run in each of the first two innings to Levelland (2-1).
But it could have been worse. The Lobos loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the second, but Cruce got out of the jam by striking out Matt Lynn.
Clovis’ bats, dormant in the first inning, came alive in the second inning as the Cats scored seven runs to take command.
“You’ve got to come out and throw strikes, obviously, which I didn’t do tonight early,” Sean Cruce said. “Once I got ahead, everything began to feel better.”
He confirmed that getting better of his older brother, even if his sibling wasn’t playing, was on his mind as well.
“There’s always a little bit of rivalry there within the family, a little bit of bragging rights,” the younger Cruce said.
Jared Powers began the Clovis second with an opposite-field single to right. After an error and a hit batsman loaded the bases, shortstop Cade Wheeler hit a single just past the outstretched glove of Levelland second baseman Kirk Alexander to drive in two runs.
That was the first hit in a big night for Wheeler, a junior. In the third, he tripled to left-center to score Parker Wood.
Wheeler came trough again in another bases-loaded situation in the fourth with another triple. The shot to right-center cleared the bases and gave Clovis its final runs of the game.
“Cade started for us last year, but he didn’t swing as well as we had hoped,” Clovis coach Shane Shallenberger said. “Cade’s definitely got the talent to have these type of games. This is good for him; I told him that last year didn’t matter, that this is another year.”
Also in the Clovis second, Matt Ulibarri hit an opposite-field double to left to score two more runs. Powers, who had started the big inning, later drove home another tally with a grounder to third.
After the game, Levelland coach Kevin Simmons’ attention was not entirely on the Wildcats’ big inning but his own team’s failure to have one in the top of the second.
“I think in the second, when we have the bases loaded and we only come out of it with (one) run, I think that was a huge deal,” Simmons said. “Then they came back and got seven. It could have been a totally different ballgame.”