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ESPAÑOLA – Even with a considerable amount on the line Saturday, the Los Alamos Hilltopper baseball team wasn’t feeling the pinch.
Even after falling in a tight opening game, Los Alamos was still playing it light and breezy.
And everything worked out just fine.
The Hilltoppers bounced back after a game one loss in a critical District 2-4A doubleheader against the Española Valley Sundevils to earn a victory in the nightcap. The Hilltoppers scored three runs in both their first and last at-bats to take the second game 8-3.
The win in the second game of Saturday’s twinbill at Española Valley clinched the third straight district title for Los Alamos.
“It was kind of the same thing for us at Bernalillo,” said Hilltopper Thomas Russell following Saturday’s games. “We have depth. We had no pressure on us at all. We’re not changing anything just because we lost.”
Los Alamos needed to earn just a split Saturday to grab the district title and the accompanying berth in the Class 4A playoffs – which is key because District 2 may only get one or two teams into state in 2011. Heading into Saturday’s play, only Española Valley and Bernalillo were still alive mathematically in the 2-4A race.
Española Valley, which swung the bat well in both games but ultimately had little to show for it, won Saturday’s opener 2-1, nipping Los Alamos ace pitcher JD Weiss to earn that victory. A win in game two for the Sundevils would’ve slid them past the Hilltoppers for the lead in the district race.
However, Los Alamos, which has had at least a share of the lead since the opening day of district, didn’t panic. Quite the opposite, in fact.
To open the nightcap, Los Alamos put up three quick runs in the top of the first off Sundevil pitcher Joaquin Schoeppner.
Schoeppner, who actually pitched well for the Sundevils until the final inning, got little help from his defense in game two. The Hilltoppers scored their three runs on just one hit, taking advantage of two Sundevil errors and a passed ball.
Right fielder Austin Aslin had a run-scoring base hit in the first inning and would score on a RBI groundout by Billy Cooper following a successful delayed double steal.
As Hilltopper manager Mike Gill has stressed to his team all season, the biggest inning of any doubleheader in the first inning of the second game. As it did after falling in the opener of an important doubleheader against Bernalillo eight days earlier, Los Alamos once again responded to start game two.
“If you can start out that first inning well, it’s huge,” he said. “Especially if you lose that first one. It really settles you down.”
Española Valley (12-10 overall, 7-3 in 2-4A) committed another big error in the fourth inning, leading directly to one of Los Alamos’ two runs in that frame.
For Los Alamos on the hill, eighth grader Jared Mang went 6-2/3 innings of scoreless ball to pick up the victory.
Mang, one of the most promising youngsters ever to come through the Los Alamos program, effectively used his breaking ball to keep Española Valley’s hitters guessing throughout the second game.
He worked out of trouble in four of the first five innings of game two, aided by some solid defense and got two quick strikeouts in the seventh before the Sundevils rallied for four straight hits.
Russell came on in relief and got Corey Atencio to fly out to right to end the contest.
In the first game, Weiss went six innings on the mound, giving up just one hit in the first three innings.
In the fourth, Española Valley tied the game at 1-1 when Atencio’s infield single plated Jesus Chavez, who had a double earlier in the inning. Los Alamos nearly got out of the inning unscathed after cutting Ricky Gonzales down at the plate trying to score from third on a shallow fly into right.
Los Alamos turned three double plays Saturday.
Española Valley would score what ended up being the game-winning run in the fifth. Schoeppner’s sacrifice fly to right scored the second run. Los Alamos managed just one hit in its final two at-bats.
Zeke Zumbro drove in Los Alamos’ only run in the opener in the third inning.
In the second game, Kyle Parks drove in Cooper and Russell in the seventh and would score on a RBI single by Jodran Sandoval.
Los Alamos (13-10 overall, 9-2 in district ) will close out its regular season against cellar-dwelling Capital Wednesday then await the release of the Class 4A draw prior to the state tournament’s opening May 6.
“It feels good,” Gill said of his team’s third title, all of which he’s guided. “I’m hoping the program is in a position where, year in and year out, we can compete for a district title.”