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ESPAÑOLA — Once more, the Los Alamos Hilltopper baseball team pulled off a comeback in a big district game, although its comeback started a little earlier than usual.
The Hilltoppers took on the Española Valley Sundevils Wednesday and once again fell behind early in the contest.
However, the Hilltoppers strung together four hits and a walk to open the third inning and get right back into Wednesday’s ballgame.
Los Alamos won the contest 6-5 over Española Valley to slice its magic number down to 1 to clinch its second straight District 2AAAA title.
It was Senior Day at Española Valley, but the Sundevils had more than just that reason to come out swinging.
“We knew coming in they were fighting for their lives,” Los Alamos manager Mike Gill said. “We knew they were going to be full of emotion. They’re tough. They played hard. Both teams played very hard, because we knew it was going to be a dogfight.”
Heading into the contest, the Sundevils (13-10-1 overall, 6-4 in 2AAAA) absolutely had to have a win just to stay in the running for a district title. In the first two innings, the Sundevils were playing like a team in need, plating a run in the bottom of the first and three more in the bottom of the second to take a 4-0 advantage.
But with two runners on in the bottom of the second and a 2-0 count on Española Valley’s clean-up hitter Sean Salazar, Hilltopper senior Ryan Schleft took over the pitching duties for starter Lukas Coker.
With one pitch, Schleft got Salazar to bounce out to second base and get out of the inning.
Schleft did his part, not only to keep Española Valley off the scoreboard but to get Los Alamos back into the ballgame. Schleft, who went 2-for-4 in the game with two runs scored and drove in a run.
Schleft had a RBI base hit in the top of the third, hitting a sharp line drive to right field that was misplayed in the outfield. Two runs scored on the play and Schleft ended up on third.
“The big (thing) is this took a little pressure off us,” Schleft said. “It makes it a little easier for us. After we split the doubleheader, it gives us a little more confidence.”
Saturday, Los Alamos won the first game of a two-game set at Bernalillo, but Bernalillo, also with its back to the wall, came back to take the nightcap.
To take the 2010 district title, the Hilltoppers (10-11 overall, 9-1 in 2AAAA) need to take just one of two in their season-ending doubleheader Saturday when they host the struggling Capital Jaguars (2-15 overall, 1-7 in 2AAAA).
Despite the Jaguars’ plodding toward the end of the regular season, they played the Hilltoppers a closer-than-expected game the first time the teams met April 14, although the Hilltoppers still earned a 13-4 victory.
In all nine of Los Alamos’ district wins, it has had to come from behind.
Schleft finished Wednesday’s contest throwing four innings, giving up just one earned run. Closer Scott Berkebile fanned all four batters he faced to close out the contest, leaving a runner stranded on third in the bottom of the sixth.
The only run the Sundevils managed off Schleft came in the fifth inning when the first three batters of the inning all reached base — Salazar was intentionally walked to load the bases following Ricky Gonzales’ double that put runners on second and third.
The Sundevils committed some costly offensive and defensive errors Wednesday, but perhaps the most costly was Salazar’s attempt to score on a wild pitch in that inning. The Sundevils perfectly executed a double-steal, but while Salazar was chugging into third base, the pitch got away from Los Alamos catcher Mike Young.
Salazar continued toward the plate but Young recovered the ball in plenty of time to get Salazar at the plate.
The would-be run would’ve tied the ballgame. However, the Sundevils would likely have scored on the next play as catcher Cory Atencio grounded slowly to second base.
Berkebile, batting in the No. 3 slot Wednesday, went 3-for-4 with a RBI. Berkebile’s triple in the third inning tied the score at 4 and his base hit in the fifth led to another run.
Hilltopper No. 8 hitter Jordan Sandoval and No. 9 hitter Zeke Zumbro both went 1-for-2 on the day — Sandoval reached base all four times he appeared at the plate — and each scored a run.
“So far, I’m feeling pretty good that we don’t need to have the top of the order up to score runs,” Gill said. “Everyone’s contributing one way or another.”