LA sweeps Centennial to advance

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By Mike Cote

It wasn’t often the Los Alamos Hilltopper baseball team got into trouble this weekend.
But when it did, Los Alamos was able to work its way out.
The Hilltoppers, the No. 7 seed for the Class 4A playoffs, earned a two-game sweep over the 10th-seeded Centennial Hawks at Bomber Field. The 2-0 sweep in the best-of-3 first round series puts the Hilltoppers into the quarterfinals, which are scheduled for Thursday in Rio Rancho.
Los Alamos took game one 15-5, closing that one out in five innings Friday night. Saturday was a tighter contest, but Los Alamos earned the sweep with an 8-4 win.
Hilltopper star Jared Mang won Friday’s game one, throwing a complete five innings, then entered Saturday’s game in a tight spot in the fifth inning with the Hawks threatening.
“Coming into the game, I told coach I was ready to go,” said Mang, who worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth and gave up just one hit in the final two innings against a big-hitting lineup. “My arm felt going coming into the game today. Just needed to get it done and I was ready.”
This will be Los Alamos’ second straight appearance in the quarterfinals. Los Alamos swept Aztec in the first round at home in 2013.
The Hawks were something of an unknown quantity for the Hilltoppers heading into the series, but had shown the ability to put up a lot of runs. The Hawks scored 229 runs during the regular season, most in Class 4A.
But Centennial was ridiculously sloppy in Friday’s game one, committing nine errors in the contest, including five in the bottom of the first that put the team into a huge hole.
Los Alamos took full advantage of the Hawks’ early troubles, sending 14 batters to the plate in the first inning and pushing eight runs across the plate to take a commanding lead early.
Zack Gonzales started the game for Centennial, but lasted just a third of an inning, although his defense gave him not an ounce of support – Gonzales could’ve conceivably gotten out of the first inning giving up just one or two runs had his defense made some routine plays behind him.
Unfortunately for Centennial (17-11), it wasn’t able to clean up those miscues in Saturday’s second game. The Hawks committed eight errors in the game behind starting pitcher Ben Koerper, who was otherwise fairly effective for them.
Hilltopper manager Mike Gill said he and his team were wary of the Hawks going into the series, but his team made all the plays it needed to make in the two games to win.
“We were able to make outs when we had an opportunity,” said Gill. “One thing we don’t want to do is give anything away. We’re going to come right after teams if we can.”
The first two batters for Los Alamos Friday, Connor Mang and Downs, both reached on errors ahead of Jared Mang, who drove both in with a base hit. Later in the inning Trevor Pacheco singled home and run and Zealand Walterscheid, the No. 9 batter, doubled in a pair of runs.
Centennial’s Andy Moreno came on in relief of Gonzales and pitched through the fourth inning. Wes Moss got aboard on an infield single off Centennial’s third pitcher, Kris Miller, then came around to score – appropriately enough, on a throwing error – to end the contest.
The Hawks, to their credit, didn’t quit after falling into a 9-1 hole after two innings. They rallied for three runs in the top of the fourth to somewhat get back into the game, but the Hilltoppers countered with five runs in the bottom of the fourth to put the Hawks on the brink of a mercy-rule defeat.
Connor Mang had a double to drive in Walterscheid and Downs came through with a RBI single one batter later in that fourth inning.
On the mound, Jared Mang gave up eight hits and four earned runs in his five innings, striking out six batters.
When he came back Saturday in relief of Connor, the Hawks had loaded the bases on two walks — both coming on two inexplicable ball four calls — and a hit batter.
But Jared Mang got Jesse Watson, a solid hitter, to fly to center field for the final out.
Connor Mang went 4-2/3 innings to earn the win. It was his longest outing since late March, but he held the powerful Hawks lineup to just three hits and didn’t allow an earned run.
At the plate, he also finished the game going 3-for-4, including a leadoff double in the bottom of third after the Hawks scored three times in the top of the inning.
He was driven in one batter later by Downs, who came around to score on an error later in the frame.