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While the weather may not be playing ball right now, the Los Alamos Hilltoppers are.
The season has begun for the Hilltopper baseball program. The team opened up its season this weekend with a doubleheader at Piedra Vista, its usual season-opening jaunt.
And this will hardly be the only road trip Los Alamos has in its immediate future.
“We’re definitely going to be road warriors, that’s for sure,” said Hilltopper manager Mike Gill.
Los Alamos has just one home game set for the month of March, that will be March 12 against Hope Christian.
Expectations are fairly high right now for the Hilltoppers, who have several returning veterans, lots of arms in the bullpen, and good power at the plate.
The Hilltoppers sport one of the dominant players in Class 4A, junior Jared Mang, who has been hitting No. 3 in the batting order since his eighth grade season.
Mang, who plays shortstop when he’s not pitching, had a big season in 2013. Mang hits for power, he hits for average and is a solid No. 1 in the Hilltoppers’ pitching rotation.
Gill, heading into this weekend’s doubleheader with the mighty Piedra Vista Panthers, said he wasn’t sure exactly who was going to throw this weekend, but was planning to get as many pitchers in as the games would allow him to.
Following Jared Mang, Los Alamos has younger brother Connor Mang, who was solid coming out of the bullpen last season. The younger Mang can also play the middle infield as well as the outfield.
Several returners are expected to make an impact. Among them Lane Saunders, a left-handed pitcher who is just returning to the team after winning a state wrestling title for the Hilltoppers, and James Downs, a regular starter at third base.
In the outfield, Wesly Moss, a junior, worked his way into the starting lineup right before the start of District 2-4A play last season and has been there ever since.
Los Alamos will go in this season without last year’s starting catcher Tristan Hill, who elected not to play baseball. Penciled in at the job is junior Trevor Pacheco.
Gill said Pacheco has looked good in preseason workouts and has been timed throwing from home to second base in 2.2 seconds – 2 seconds flat is a good time for college-level catchers.
As is usually the case, the Hilltoppers have stressed fundamentals during their preseason workouts. From that standpoint, Gill thinks the team is about where it needs to be, but warns there’s a big difference between workouts and when it’s time to put on the spikes.
“We’re looking good as far as attitude and effort,” said Gill, who has led the program since 2005. “We’ll have to see where we are performance-wise when we actually start playing games…but we’re in a good place right now.”
Los Alamos should get a glimpse of where it stands in a hurry.
Piedra Vista, of course, is among the top programs in New Mexico, regardless of classification, and should be in the mix again this season for a state title. Piedra Vista blasted Los Alamos in the second round of the 2013 playoffs after Los Alamos swept Aztec in the first round.
Tuesday, Los Alamos will take on Pojoaque Valley, a program that Gill believes has made leaps and bounds and should give the Hilltoppers a run for their money. Following that, the Hilltoppers will head to the St. Pius X Invitational in Albuquerque – their first opponent will be Class 4A Gallup. St. Pius is the defending Class 4A champion.
Last season, Los Alamos posted a record of 19-10 overall and won the District 2-4A championship. Los Alamos outscored its district opponents by a whopping margin of 130-33 in 12 2-4A games.
The Hilltopper offense generated a total of 233 runs last season.