Hilltoppers stunned in extra innings by Knights

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By The Staff

ALBUQUERQUE – In the bottom of the eighth inning Wednesday, the Los Alamos Hilltopper baseball team looked to have victory well in-hand against the Del Norte Knights.
Los Alamos was just one out away from recording a victory in its district-opening contest, but with two outs, the Knights pulled off an improbable comeback to pull out the victory.
Reserve infielder Isaac Saiz came through with a bases-clearing single to right field for Del Norte, tying the score in the bottom of the eighth. Immediately after Saiz, right fielder Maurice LaFon drilled a double into the gap in left-center to plate Saiz and give the Knights an 8-7 walk-off victory.
It was a rough start to the District 2-5A season for the Hilltoppers, who were hoping to turn things around after getting blasted in a doubleheader Monday against Bloomfield, which dropped them to 5-9 on the season.
The game was close and low scoring throughout regulation – Los Alamos led 3-2 until Del Norte scraped together a run in the bottom of the sixth to tie it and eventually force the extra frame.
In the top of the eighth, Los Alamos (0-1 in district) also did most of its damage with two outs.
To lead off the inning, Antonio Gonzales drew a walk off Jacob Saavedra, who started the game for Del Norte and was still on the mound. Saavedra gave way after the walk to Gonzales to reliever Ryan Torres.
A nice bunt by Vincent Marciano moved Gonzales to second and, after a wild pitch, Gonzales came around to score on a ground out by Cottrell Fox.
With two outs, the Hilltoppers loaded the bases. No. 9 batter Hunter Swavely, who had a big game for Los Alamos Wednesday, singled in a run, and the Hilltoppers would scored two more on a throwing error one batter later to take a commanding lead.
The final at-bat comeback by Del Norte (4-8 overall, 1-0 in district) was even more surprising since the Knights have struggled to score runs this season. Coming into Wednesday’s game, the Knights had averaged less than four runs per contest.
Hilltopper relief pitcher Travis Gonzales ended up taking the loss. He was the third Hilltopper pitcher of the game after starter Rico Zerr and Jake Rutten, who came on in the fourth inning. Rutten, who was quite effective for his three innings of work, was in line for the victory prior to the Knights’ comeback.
Saavedra, despite being on the hook for the loss before the final inning rally, pitched well most of the afternoon for Del Norte. He retired the first seven batters he faced before the Hilltoppers got to him in the third, scoring twice to take the early lead.
Arthur Steinkamp singled in Zerr and Swavely in the third to give the Hilltoppers a 2-0 advantage at the time.
Swavely, in addition to a solid defensive game in center field, had a pair of hits in the game and scored two runs at the bottom of the Hilltopper order, while Steinkamp also came up with two hits.
Even with 11 more district games to play, Wednesday’s loss already put the Hilltoppers in a less-than-ideal position heading forward. The Hilltoppers are currently ranked 16th in the MaxPreps rankings and are in danger of missing out on the 2017 postseason entirely if they can’t turn things around quickly.
And the Hilltoppers have a tall order coming up on Saturday. They host the 2-5A favorites this season, Albuquerque Academy, which is ranked fourth in that same poll, in a doubleheader at Bomber Field.
Saturday’s game one of that doubleheader is scheduled for 11 a.m.
Academy, meanwhile, also opened up 2-5A play Wednesday at Española Valley, shutting out the Sundevils 11-0 for its ninth win of the season.