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Hilltoppers fall in district opener

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By Mike Cote

BERNALILLO — A pitchers’ duel it was not.

In their first of three meetings during the District 2AAAA baseball season, the Los Alamos Hilltoppers and the Bernalillo Spartans slugged it out to the bitter end.

Only a disputed force-out call at second base ended the offensive onslaught in Wednesday’s game, a contest which saw five home runs and 12 extra-base hits.

Bernalillo held on behind laboring pitcher Kellan Quintana to win 13-11 and take the early edge in the 2AAAA race.

The 24 combined runs was hardly what was expected heading into the game.

“It was our best pitcher versus their best pitcher,” Hilltopper Zach Mang said. “I saw them (the Spartans) at the St. Pius tournament and they didn’t hit the ball particularly well...the slugfest kind of came out of nowhere.”

Los Alamos looked all but done in the seventh inning, trailing 13-8 with one out and no one on base, but the excitement was barely reaching its crescendo.

The second batter of the inning, Zakk Walterscheid, hit a sharp single to reach, then was doubled over to third by Michael Helland, who hit a bullet which thudded off the wall in center.

Scott Berkebile, the next batter, hit a high chopper to the shortstop, but the throw to first was five feet too high.

Both Walterscheid and Helland were awarded home plate on the overthrow.

Berkebile scored when two straight Quintana fastballs went to the backstop, making the score 13-11 with just the one out.

Los Alamos (4-10 overall, 0-1 in 2AAAA) would go on to load the bases — Jack Russell’s double moved Lance Fresquez to third before lead-off hitter Eli Pulliam drew a two-out walk — but Russell was called out on a disputed force play at second to end the game.

While Hilltopper manager Mike Gill said he couldn’t be much happier with his offense as it has been playing, his pitchers were leaving too many balls in the upper part of the strike zone and Bernalillo sent many of those flying around and out of the ballpark.

Both Walterscheid, who started the game for the Hilltoppers, and Quintana struggled through the early innings Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Spartans (10-4 overall, 3-0 in 2AAAA) got their sticks going with Quintana belting a home run and Jorge Luna blasting a 3-run shot in the bottom of the third inning, answering Los Alamos’ two-out, three-run rally in the top of the second.

Quintana went the distance to earn the victory, although he was running on fumes in the bottom of the seventh. Jon Thoma came on in relief of Walterscheid in the fourth and Scott Berkebile, who has missed much of the season to date because of injury, recorded the final out in the bottom of the sixth in relief of Thoma.