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Baseball: LA grabs two 2-4A victories

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By Mike Cote

ESPAÑOLA — It takes two. Los Alamos’ baseball team, that is.

Under cloudy, rainy skies Saturday, the Los Alamos Hilltoppers swept the Española Valley Sundevils in a critical District 2AAAA doubleheader. Los Alamos held on for a 6-5 victory in Saturday’s game one, then drubbed Española Valley 13-0 in five innings to take the nightcap.

It was a pair of games the Hilltoppers needed after a disappointing loss Wednesday at Bernalillo to start 2AAAA play.

After the nail-biter in game one, Los Alamos pummeled Española Valley pitchers in game two from the get-go, scoring seven runs in the first two innings to get out to a huge early lead which it never relinquished.

As the heaviest rain of the afternoon fell, game two starting pitcher Zakk Walterscheid struck out three straight batters in the bottom of the fifth with runners in scoring position to preserve the shutout as well as post a 5-inning no-hitter.

Walterscheid walked the first two batters to start the bottom of the fifth — the only time he found himself in trouble in the second game — but then went right after Española Valley’s 8, 9 and 1 hitters with fastballs all over the strike zone. Sundevils’ lead-off hitter Ryan Fresquez watched strike three sail by thigh-high on the inside part of the plate to end the game and complete the no-no.

The two wins bumped Los Alamos up to 2-1 on the district season (6-10 overall) and kept them on pace with Bernalillo (3-0 in 2AAAA). Bernalillo had a doubleheader scheduled with Taos Saturday but results weren’t known as of press time.

The Hilltoppers were looking to bounce back after Wednesday’s loss on the road against Bernalillo’s Spartans. The Hilltoppers nearly came back from a 13-8 deficit in the seventh inning, but their last-chance rally fell short, partially because of a questionable putout call at second base that ended the game. The Spartans won that game 13-11.

The ease of the game two victory was somewhat surprising as the Sundevils (6-11 overall, 2-3 in 2AAAA) were every bit as motivated to win the nightcap after losing game one.

A win in the second game by the Sundevils might have gotten a district season that went badly off-course with a loss to Capital April 1 back on the right path.

Española Valley bounced back from an early 5-1 deficit in the first game to make Los Alamos sweat out the ending a little bit. Pushing single tallies across in the bottom of the second, third and fifth, Española Valley got back to within 5-4 and got first batter of the sixth, Corey Atencio, on base with a cue-shot single.

Relief pitcher Scott Berkebile, who came on in the fifth for starter Zach Mang, picked up a comebacker to erase pinch runner Mario Archuleta at second, then speared a comeback line drive just two pitches later and doubled off Fresquez to get out of the inning unscathed.

While some pitchers would rather not step into a late-inning 1-run situation, Berkebile said he’d rather come out of the bullpen then get the starting nod.

“It’s that feeling you don’t get when you start,” he said. “You’re not tired. You can give everything you have.”

Española Valley struggled to catch up to Berkebile’s fastball in the late innings of the first game. Berkebile said he tried to mix in a few off-speed pitches to keep Sundevil hitters honest, but spent most of his time pounding the strike zone with his hard stuff.

Like in the second game, Los Alamos got off to a hot start but couldn’t sustain it against Española Valley’s starting pitcher James Flores, who ultimately went the distance in the loss.

Los Alamos scored three runs in four hits in the top of the first with Mang’s single driving in Eli Pulliam and Adam Eberhart. Later in the inning, hot-hitting outfielder Ryan Schleft doubled off the wall in right-center to score Michael Helland.

Mang’s double in the second inning off Flores brought Eberhart around for the second time after Eberhart doubled in Lance Fresquez, pushing Los Alamos’ advantage to four runs.

Mang earned the game one victory, giving up just one earned run on four hits. He struck out four and walked two.

Walterscheid, meanwhile, mowed through the Sundevil lineup until the fifth inning, facing just two batters over the minimum through four. He struck out four in his first two innings of work and nine in the game.

Walterscheid was working on just three days’ rest, pitching four innings to start Wednesday’s game at Bernalillo, in which he took the loss.

To support his own effort, Walterscheid singled with the bases loaded in the second inning. That, combined with the misplay of the ball in right field, emptied the bases and put him on second.

He would come around on Helland’s double one batter later.

Not everything was good news for Los Alamos Saturday. In the second game, catcher Michael Young left in the bottom of the second with pain in his throwing hand.

Fresquez, who had a big day Saturday going 3-for-4 with a double, a RBI and two runs scored, came on to catch the rest of the contest.

Mang finished the day 4-for-6 from the plate, scoring two runs and driving in four, while Helland, who had two home runs Wednesday, was 3-for-3 with three RBI in the second game.

Los Alamos has started off the 2AAAA season with three straight games on the road — it would’ve been four but its April 1 game with Taos was postponed — but will play six of its final nine at home including what could be a decisive twinbill with Bernalillo April 25.