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Baseball: Toppers fall 21-5 in season opener Tuesday

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By Mike Cote

There was little doubt Tuesday’s baseball game was the first game of the season.Los Alamos struggled throughout Tuesday’s five-inning season opener at Bomber Field, falling behind 18-0 before finally pushing a run across in the bottom of the fourth against the visiting Belen Eagles. Belen, meanwhile, behind a three-inning shutout performance from pitcher Lucas Sanchez and a grand slam from third baseman Jaime Yalch thumped the Hilltoppers 21-5.Despite the rough first outing, Los Alamos isn’t ready to start pushing any panic buttons.“I have no complaints,” Los Alamos manager Mike Gill said. “It’s early in the season. We scored five runs. We probably started a little late.”Los Alamos strung together three hits and a walk in the bottom of the fourth after Sanchez had called it a day to score four times, something that was at least encouraging.Los Alamos is trying to fill some big holes in its lineup off the 2007 squad. The focus in the early part of the season, Gill said, is on improvement.Sophomore Scott Berkebile, who along with brother Pat is brand new to the program, started on the mound for Los Alamos. Berkebile displayed some solid breaking pitches — he quelled what could’ve been a huge first inning with a nasty hook that caught Justin Maestas flat-footed for the second out — but also left some pitches over the thick part of the plate, which the Eagles got to.Tuesday’s game was actually the second of the season for the Eagles (1-1), who took a shellacking of their own at the hands of Los Lunas, falling 9-0 on Feb. 28.Belen put up three runs in the first and five more in the second, while Sanchez cruised. He fanned seven Hilltoppers in the first three innings, striking out the side in the third and facing just two batters more than the minimum.“Offensively, it took us a little while to get started,” Los Alamos catcher Grant Janecky said. “But eventually we got it going.”After two innings, Scott Berkebile was replaced by brother Pat, who struggled with his control in an inning-plus of work. Pat Berkebile left in the top of the fourth, relieved by Zakk Walterscheid.But as Berkebile left, so too, it seemed, did the ’Topper defense.In Walterscheid’s two innings of work, Los Alamos committed four errors behind him, leading to five unearned runs.“The pitching wasn’t bad,” Gill said. “The defense was zero. Absolutely zero. That’s what we need to work on. We need to get the reps out here.”Yalch hit his point-of-no-return grand slam off Walterscheid, the second batter he faced, gave the Eagles a 16-0 advantage. Walterscheid would’ve gotten out of the inning without further damage, but two straight errors set up Belen with another pair of runs.With Gabriel Montoya replacing Sanchez in the bottom of the fourth, second baseman Ryan Schleft and Walterscheid hit back-to-back doubles to lead off. The next batter, left fielder Jeremy Kasik, reached on an infield hit, scoring Walterscheid, who two pitches before moved to third on a passed ball.Lance Fresquez, who walked, and Jon Thoma, who reached on a fielder’s choice, both scored later in the inning on an error by Belen first baseman Johnny Garcia.To lead off the bottom of the fifth, shortstop Eli Pulliam hit a solo home run.“Five runs is enough to win a game as long as we played solid defense all the way through,” Janeckey said. “We did what we needed to on offense. I’ve got no complaints about that.”Kasik finished the game 3-for-3 with a RBI. Yalch knocked in six runs and Maestas drove in three more to lead Belen.Los Alamos (0-1) will have a chance to bounce back and get into the win column Saturday. It travels to Farmington to take on another Class AAAA squad, Piedra Vista in a doubleheader.