Baseball: LA opens season with two losses

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By Mike Cote

Heading into the 2009 season, the Los Alamos Hilltopper baseball team wants to turn a corner.

Prior to Saturday’s opening doubleheader at Bomber Field against the Piedra Vista Panthers, Hilltopper manager Mike Gill said he expects his team to reach the next level and become a legitimate state title contender this season.

Los Alamos got a good look at what it will need to do — and what it can’t afford to do — if it wants to compete in Class AAAA this season starting with Saturday’s game one.

Zakk Walterscheid, starting in game one, threw a solid six innings but got precious little support from the defense behind him, which made eight errors.

The Hilltoppers dropped both ends of Saturday’s season-opening twinbill to the Panthers, 7-1 and 13-9.

While Los Alamos wasn’t happy with the fact that it dropped two games Saturday, it was largely pleased with how it played, especially after the initial rough start to the first game. Los Alamos committed just one error in the second game and worked to pull itself out of a big hole.

“We didn’t get the wind knocked out of us,” Walterscheid said. “We were able to come back. It shows the character of the guys out there.”

In game one, Walterscheid (0-1) allowed just two earned runs through the first six innings and made just two bad pitches throughout. Those two pitches, unfortunately, went out of the park courtesy of Piedra Vista’s Brennan Shay and Tim Barley.

The Panthers, for their part, committed just one error in the contest.

Piedra Vista, from Farmington, has been an elite squad in AAAA for several seasons, although it has been largely overshadowed by next-door neighbor Farmington High School, which has won four straight state titles and will be on the short list in AAAA to win another in 2009.

Los Alamos’ next game, interestingly, is against Farmington at the Artesia Invitational.

In game two, Los Alamos tied the score 6-6, battling back from an early 6-3 deficit, but Piedra Vista blasted back-to-back home runs in the sixth inning, the first a grand slam by Shay, to break the contest open.

Shay crushed a 2-1 fastball deep into left-center off a tiring Jon Thoma (0-1), who had just an inning before made quick work of the Panthers, aided by a 6-4-3 double play turned by his defense. Thoma gave way to Lukas Coker after the two home runs without recording an out in the inning.

Piedra Vista tacked on two more runs to grab a 13-6 lead. Los Alamos would come back in the bottom of the inning, scoring two runs on a Walterscheid double and pushing another across on an Eli Pulliam double in the bottom of the seventh.

“These kids battled like champs,” Gill said following the twinbill. There’s not a lot of teams that come back after a grand slam and a home run to score runs.”

For Piedra Vista, Jake McCasland (1-0), one of the top returning pitcher in AAAA this season, earned the win in game one. McCasland, who was throwing in the mid 80s for most of the contest, allowed just the one earned run through six innings, striking out seven.

In the second game, Niles Taylor (1-0) came on in relief of starter Dominic Moreno. After giving up the tying run in the fifth inning — Scott Berkebile scored on a throwing error — he threw well enough to preserve the lead in the sixth inning to get the win.

Los Alamos isn’t yet at full strength, with some personnel still playing basketball and hockey, but will hope it can build on Saturday’s experience.

“We were in both games the whole time … but we’re still 0-2,” Gill said. “We can pat each other on the back all we want, but that’s the bottom line.”