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With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Española Valley Sundevil manager Anthony Alarid made the decision to put Los Alamos No. 3 batter Jared Mang on base via intentional walk.
That brought clean-up hitter Steven Williams to the plate for the Hilltoppers. Williams, who up to that point had gone 0-for-2, proceeded to rope a fastball into the gap in right-center, bringing the speedy Mang around from first to score standing up.
The hit gave Los Alamos a 5-4 walk-off victory in a key early-season District 2-4A baseball game Thursday afternoon at Bomber Field.
Los Alamos came back from a 4-1 deficit after 4-1/2 innings, tying up the game with a 3-run rally in the bottom of the fifth, setting up the big finish.
Williams said he had a pretty good idea what the Sundevils were going to try to do to him to get out of the inning and force extras.
“I realized they were pounding the outside corner,” said Williams, who had mostly seen pitches on the outer half of the plate in his first three plate appearances. “I saw the right-center gap was open and I got the pitch to hit, right where I wanted it around my waist.”
Williams’ line drive into the gap rolled to the fence and hadn’t even gotten to the cutoff man by the time Mang skipped home for the winning run.
Williams said he’d made the mistake of trying to pull the outside pitches earlier in the game. Even so, he hit a long fly ball to the deepest part of Bomber Field in the bottom of the fifth that went all the way to the warning track before being caught.
Hilltopper manager Mike Gill wouldn’t say afterward whether he would’ve put Mang aboard had it been him making the decision.
It was a tough decision to argue with, however, as Mang, one of the best pure hitters in program history, came through with two-run triple in the fifth, also into the gap in right-center. Along with driving home Connor Mang and Jake Downs, an ensuing errant throw allowed Mang to advance to the plate and tied the game at 4-4.
Thursday’s win put Los Alamos (9-9 overall, 3-1 in district) in a tie with Española Valley (11-4, 3-1) for the top spot in the 2-4A race, although Los Alamos currently holds the tiebreaker.
The two teams meet again in a doubleheader April 27 in the valley.
In their recent meetings, the Hilltoppers and Sundevils have gone down to the wire. The Hilltoppers won a thrilling 10-5 victory over the Sundevils in the pivotal game of the 2-4A race in 2012. Despite the five-run final cushion, the game was nip-and-tuck until a seventh inning rally lifted the Hilltoppers to victory.
“I knew it was going to be close, but I knew that we’re the better team so far,” Los Alamos catcher Tristen Hill said. “We want to win district. We’ve won it for so long, we want to keep it going. We don’t want to be the team to mess that up.”
Along with accounting for four of Los Alamos’ five runs, Mang also ended up as the game’s winning pitcher. Mang went the distance, giving up four hits and three earned runs while striking out five.
He pitched around a lead-off error in the top of the seventh, getting out of the inning unscathed. Hill said afterward that, after losing some steam on his fastball in the fifth and sixth innings, was throwing as hard as he was early in the game in the seventh.
Española Valley star player, sophomore Jesus Chavez, started the game, pitching five innings before being pulled in favor of Danny Martinez.
Martinez, who gave up just the one hit to Williams, was tagged with the loss.
Neither Chavez nor Martinez got much help from their defense. The Sundevils committed four errors behind Chavez, leading directly to two Hilltopper runs, and the Sundevil outfield was too slow getting the ball back toward the plate to even have a chance at making a play on Mang in the seventh.
Prior to Thursday, Española Valley had won five of six, including a doubleheader sweep versus Capital. Los Alamos had won six of seven, splitting with Santa Fe Saturday on the road.
Gill said he was generally happy with how the team’s been play, but some things could still be better.
“About the only thing I wish we were doing, I wish we would quit walking guys,” Gill said. “We’ve been walking the 5-9 guys way too much. We’re still making erros on routine plays...but we have a positive outlook in the dugout, and we’re staying positiive in the dugout when things don’t go our way. That’s what I like to see.”