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LA heads to playoffs with win

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By Mike Cote

With its big sweep of the Española Valley Sundevils, the Los Alamos Hilltopper baseball team locked up its sixth consecutive District 2-4A title.
Now, with what seems to be a lock on a 20-win season, the Hilltoppers can turn at least one eye toward the postseason.
Los Alamos earned the district’s automatic bid to the playoffs with its game one victory over the Sundevils Saturday at Bomber Field. Los Alamos won game one in impressive fashion, taking an 11-1 victory over its toughest district foe.
For good measure, the Hilltoppers then blanked the Sundevils 9-0 in game two to complete the doubleheader and the season sweep.
The Hilltoppers (19-6) have just one game remaining on the regular season, that coming Wednesday against the struggling Capital Jaguars (4-18).
While Los Alamos won’t find out until Sunday where it will end up in the 4A bracket, it seems likely at this point the team will end up with a first round home date. Heading into this, the last week of the regular season, Los Alamos was ranked No. 6 in 4A according to MaxPreps.com, which is usually a good indicator of where teams may land in the postseason. A top eight seeding would afford the Hilltoppers the luxury of hosting the first round best-of-3 series, which will be played May 7-8.
For now, the Hilltoppers will start making their preparations for the postseason.
“From day one to today, the whole goal has been to try to get better,” Los Alamos manager Mike Gill said. “This definitely gives us an opportunity now to start some guys on the mound, get them going, because we’ll need them.”
In Saturday’s game one, the Hilltoppers pushed five runs across the plate in the bottom of the sixth to finish that contest up. Chris Funk lined a pitch into right field to plate Trevor Pacheco and Nick Sgambellone, ending that contest.
In game two, Los Alamos scored five times in the second inning to jump ahead early. Los Alamos came through with five straight hits, including a triple by Colin Kitts and a two-run single by Jared Mang.
Mang, who was also the winning pitcher in game one, was 3-for-3 in the second game with 3 RBI.
“I’m just trying to stay relaxed and not do too much,” said Mang, the Hilltoppers’ top offensive threat. “I was pressing a little bit, trying to do too much. Now I’m just trying to focus back in on hitting the ball.”
With its game one win, Los Alamos changed up its pitching plans and started left-hander Lane Saunders — had it dropped game one, it likely would’ve started No. 2 pitcher Connor Mang in the nightcap.
Saunders had a big showing in the second game. He didn’t allow a hit through five innings of work and allowed just four runners to get on board, only two of which made it as far as second base.
On this district season, the Hilltoppers have allowed just 19 runs in 11 games.
Pacheco, the starting catcher for Los Alamos, said the pitching staff top-to-bottom has been very good this district season.
“Jared was spot-on (Saturday), hitting his spots,” he said. “Connor’s looking real good, Lane’s looking real good. Nick the other day against Santa Fe was pitching lights-out. I wouldn’t change anything right now.”
Heading into Wednesday’s game, Los Alamos has won 13 straight contests, just one game less than the longest 4A winning streak of the season, that owned by Goddard.
Gill said with losses earlier this season to Piedra Vista, Albuquerque Academy and St. Pius X, it wasn’t likely the Hilltoppers were going to move into one of the coveted top four seeds, but nevertheless, his team appears poised to make a playoff run.
“We feel like we have enough pitching and defense to hold teams down,” Gill said. “When you get to the playoffs, it’s probably going to be about winning a 1-run game. You never know. Offense comes and goes. It’s still about whether or not we can throw strikes and play defense.”