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Boys track and field: Hilltoppers win team title over Academy

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By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE — Larry Baca reminded his squad constantly that he thought this season could be special.

He reinforced that through several good weeks, and raised an eyebrow at his squad with what he thought was a mediocre effort the weekend of spring break.

On Saturday, his team proved him correct.

“It’s fantastic,” Baca said, choking up after his 1600 meter relay team held off the Los Alamos’ Hilltopper boys track and field team’s final challenger, Albuquerque Academy, to win the Class AAAA state team title. “It was a total team effort…it’s been a wild ride, but it’s been really enjoyable.

Los Alamos scored a whopping 92 points, the second-best team total of the day behind only Class AAAAA’s Cibola boys, who tallied a ridiculous total of 109 to win the big school title.

Friday’s and Saturday’s meet took place at the University of New Mexico Track and Field Complex.

The Hilltoppers downed the Chargers and broke their string of six straight Class AAAA wins, taking four event championships with them along the way. Even in defeat, the Chargers were spectacular, picking up 81 points, the third-best boys team total of the day.

Ruben Martinez was the star of the show Saturday, launching a 191-foot, 10-inch missile in javelin to win that event by 21-1/2 feet. Two hours earlier, Martinez sealed the AAAA title in the shot put with his first attempt, 50 feet, 9 inches, four feet better than second-place Colin Martz of Academy.

Los Alamos got off to a solid start in Friday’s day one of the two-day event, picking up 15 points, although Academy’s Chargers jumped out ahead after one day with 29 points, nine points better than Artesia’s first day.

Things looked like they were going to be tight, however, as Friday’s preliminary in the 800 relay would indicate. Los Alamos finished second in the prelims, but just slightly more than a second separated the top seven finishers in the preliminaries, which were won by Aztec.

But in the 800 final Saturday, the Hilltoppers blew away the rest of the competition, including runner-up Artesia.

The Hilltopper squad of Matt Zocco, Noah Sandoval, Martin Romero and Jason Reagor led for virtually the entire way. Sandoval, filling in for the injured Raul Rodriguez, held the lead Zocco provided early. Romero started to pull away at the 500-meter mark, and Reagor slammed the door shut on all other competitors.

Zocco, who finished second behind all-world athlete Curtis Beach of Academy in the 110 hurdles, said heading into the 800 relay that the team was focused and ready to go, especially after a school record-setting but state runner-up finish in the 400 relay.

“We’re so pumped,” Zocco said. “We’re excited. That second (in the 400 relay) gives us a boost. We’ve got to step it up even more now.”

Zocco had the second-fastest time heading into Saturday’s 300 hurdles as well, but fell at the second hurdle in the final.

Allen Pittman, Gareth Gilna and Kyle Pittman took the 4-5-6 spots in the boys 3200 meters Friday.

The Hilltopper distance squad, which likes to stick together as closely as it can every time it goes out, had another tight pack in the 1600 meters, finishing second (Gilna), third (Allen Pittman) and fifth (Kyle Pittman).

Significantly, all three finished ahead of Academy’s Pat Zacharais, a top AAAA distance runner and a solid big-race runner, giving Los Alamos a solid cushion.

Following the big performance in the 1600, Martin Romero outgutted Trevor Hammargren of Aztec to win the state 400 meter championship.

Romero jumped out to a big lead in the first half of the race, but then started to slow, running into the wind on the second turn, and Hammargren began to chip away at the lead.

With about 60 meters left, it looked like Hammargren might pass Romero, but Romero dipped into his reserves and held off the late charge.

Romero talked about winning the 400 all season and felt this was his year, despite a nagging hamstring problem, but he admitted Saturday that running the open 400 can be a big mental challenge.

“I’m not good at the start, for one,” he said. “The first 100 (meters) I’m afraid to go too fast or too slow. The first 100 makes or breaks me.”

In Friday’s competition, Martinez threw 142-0 in the discus for his second place finish, and Zocco was third in pole vault, clearing 12-9.

Due to space limitations, the final results from the Class AAAA meet will run in Tuesday’s Monitor.