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Baseball: LA splits twinbill at Espanola Valley

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By Mike Cote

ESPAÑOLA — Talk about a pressure situation.In game one of a District 2AAAA doubleheader Saturday, the Los Alamos Hilltoppers called on sophomore Scott Berkebile to get them out of a jam.Berkebile, who is in his first season with the squad after moving to Los Alamos from Canyon Creek, Ariz., was handed the ball in relief of Jeremy Kasik in the bottom of the fifth of a crucial game.But the young pitcher was more than up to the challenge. In three innings, Berkebile fanned seven batters and held the Sundevils scoreless in the sixth and seventh innings to give the Hilltoppers the game one decision, 12-10.In the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, played largely under the lights due to a late start time, the Hilltoppers fell, 6-4. The end of the game was marred with controversy, as a dropped third strike gave third baseman Michael Helland an apparent base, but after a lengthy discussion with both managers, Helland was ruled to have given up on the play and returned to the dugout although he never appeared to leave the field of play.Berkebile, a hard-throwing right-hander who struggled in his starting spot early in the season, went to Los Alamos manager Mike Gill and requested that he instead be moved to the ’Topper bullpen prior to the start of the 2AAAA season.“As a starter, I don’t know what it was. It just wasn’t working,” Berkebile said. “I have no idea what it is.”But in two recent relief appearances in two of the last three Hilltopper games, Berkebile has seemingly found his niche.Nowhere was that more evident than in the bottom of the seventh with the Hilltoppers clinging to a 2-run edge.Los Alamos’ bats started to cool off late in game one, and Española Valley was starting to catch up to starter Jeremy Kasik in the latter half of the game.With momentum seeming to shift the Sundevils’ way late, Berkebile pitched his way out of trouble to close out game one.After hitting Andrew Martinez to open the inning, Berkebile struck out Loren Maes-Villareal, the next batter. The next two batters reached, Ryan Fresquez on a walk and Chris Caballero, the Sundevils’ best all-around player, on a base hit.The battle with Caballero, even though he reached, was key. On his previous trip to the plate, Caballero belted a ground-rule double off Berkebile.In this at-bat, Berkebile fell behind 1-0 in the count, but threw two fastballs that caught the outside black to get the edge back.The pitch Caballero dumped into short right field was actually a good breaking pitch on the outside edge of the plate.But Berkebile fanned the Sundevils’ third hitter Mike Torres and clean-up hitter Daniel Archuleta — against Archuleta he came back from 2-0 to record the strikeout — ending the game and giving the Hilltoppers the win in the opener.“I was just throwing strikes,” Berkebile said. “I couldn’t walk him in that situation.”In game two, Los Alamos starting pitcher Jonathan Thoma struggled early, giving up three runs in both the first and third innings — in the second, he struck out the side and threw efficiently for the remainder of the game.But those runs would be all the Sundevils would need to pick up the game two win. Los Alamos got little going offensively in the game, and Caballero came on in the fifth inning to close it out, combining an impressive fastball with a nasty cutter and splitter to stymie the Hilltopper offense.Los Alamos clung to life going into the final inning with a lead-off single from Adam Eberhart off Caballero. Eberhart moved to second on a passed ball and to third on a groundout by Ian Pulliam.Following a strikeout, designated hitter Alex Kirk fought back from an 0-2 count, fouling off four pitches, before blooping a single into right field to drive in Eberhart.The next batter was Helland, who was called out on the controversial dropped third strike.Los Alamos missed a chance to be in an enviable position of 3-0 in 2AAAA play heading into Wednesday’s home game against Capital.Capital has struggled this season, having won just one game in 12 outings. The results of its 2AAAA opener against Bernalillo April 9 or its doubleheader against Taos Saturday hadn’t been reported as of press time.Wednesday’s game will be the home district opener for the Hilltoppers (6-10 overall, 2-1 in 2AAAA). Española Valley (7-6 overall, 1-1 in 2AAAA) will host Bernalillo Wednesday. The Sundevils will play all of their seven district home games in a row before they go on the road for their final five district games.