Kuks amazes with two-hit complete-game shut out
George Ban knocks in the game's first run; the only one needed in a shutout pitching performance by Justin Kuks. (Photo by Josh Szwaczkowski)
By Karen Boehler
Pecos League writer
ALAMOGORDO — The big story at the Aquarium in Alamogordo is Pupfish pitcher Justin Kuks.
Kuks threw a two-hitter against Taos, striking out nine and walking four in a 5-0 victory over the normally hot-hitting Blizzard.
“The guy’s lights out,” said White Sands manager Ernie Munoz. “He’s been lights out for us all year. This was by far his best start. He just shut out the best-hitting team we’ve seen so far, so that says a lot about him.”
“All the scouting reports were correct. He can deal,” agreed Taos manager Matt Leahy. “He kept us off balance on every count. Every hitter was complaining about being off balance. About being not comfortable. At the end of the day when it happens to a team that has this caliber offense, you just tip your hit and forget about it.”
And add to that pitching performance the fact Kuks was 2-for-4 at the plate with a double and single.
“Kuks is out of this world right now,” Munoz said. “He’s on a different level. Probably won’t be here too much longer. I’d hate to lose him, but he deserves to be somewhere else.”
“We thought if we could put him on base we’d tire him out, but the kid just got stronger,” Leahy said. “We knew if we could get to their bullpen, their bullpen is very extremely shaky. We tried a few pitches, but at the end of the day, the kid just got us out. So we’re going to do nothing different.”
There really wasn’t much to say about what happened at the plate. The only two Blizzard hits were a double by Bryce Springfield in the first and single by Jordan Chiero in the fifth.
And Kuks performance took the spolight off a strong game by Blizzard starter Angel Gonzales, who went seven, allowing five runs, only three earned, on eight hits.
The ‘Fish scored in the third when Kuks doubled, advanced on an error and scored on a fielder’s choice. Kuks tripled in the fifth and came home on a putout, then White Sands added another run in the sixth on a Cody Collins double and Mark Leacox single.
The final two runs came in the seventh when J.J. Costantino reached on an error, Christian Ramirez hit an RBI double and Ban singled in Ramirez.
But that was all the scoring and all the hitting, as Kuks continued his pitching onslaught and Sam Briend and Mike Fasolo kept the Pupfish off base.
“Everything was played well today,” Munoz said. “Great baseball game. Defense showed up. We hit enough. We scored enough runs and we didn’t even have to go to the bullpen. Our starter did all the work for us on the mound.”
The only thing that might have marred the pitching performance is what appears to be a fued between the team’s two managers. While both managers praised the other team’s players, they each had words for their counterparts.
Leahy was ejected in the eighth, and Munoz gave his reasons why.
“Just for talking too much,” Munoz said. “Both sides got a warning and he just kept running his mouth. Like I said before, that’s one of the best teams, too bad their leader doesn’t reflect any of that. They do a lot with their bats and their pitching and they have great pitching but their coach is just a joker.”
Leahy fired back at the player/manager (Munoz catches), saying, “We ran all over their catchers all series. They threw out one runner the entire four-game series. We ran all over their catchers.”
So what did he say that got him ejected?
“I told (Munoz), ‘At the end of the day, I’ll start him at the all-star game,’ and he got all fired up about that. I said, ‘Don’t worry about that. When I’m manager of the all-star game, I’ll still start you, because you lead the league in passed balls.’”
At least the two teams won’t face each other for a while. Taos gets a day off before heading back to Alpine for another series with the Cowboys, while White SAnds heads to Santa Fe and its hitter-friendly ball park.
“We’re ready to hit the road and see what Santa Fe is going to bing out to the field and try to get to .500 right now. That’s our goal,” he said. “We’re just going to pitch the way we’ve been pitching all year. We’re going to try to keep the ball down and keep the ball in the park.
“There’s going to be home runs hit and we’re going to hit our fair share and we’re just going to have to score more runs than them.”
Pupfish pitcher Justin Kuks slides into second. He not only pitched a two-hit performance, but had two hits and scored two runs. (Photo by Josh Szwaczkowski)
Chris DeBiasi gets a single up the middle. (Photo by Josh Szwaczkowski)
Justin Kuks rips a shot into center. (Photo by Josh Szwaczkowski)
Christian Ramirez fouls one off. (Photo by Josh Szwaczkowski)
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