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Prep baseball: Toppers split season-opening series

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By Jose Corral

The Los Alamos baseball team will look to get plenty of pitchers on the mound in 2017.
The Hilltoppers (1-1) used seven pitchers in their season-opening doubleheader against Sandia Prep Saturday in Albuquerque. In the first game, Los Alamos sent four different pitchers on the mound as it dropped a 4-2 decision. In the second game, the Hilltoppers used three pitchers to claim a 21-7 win and earn a series split against the Sundevils.
“We want to have at least nine pitchers with double digit innings before the district season,” Los Alamos coach Bryan Neal said. “In order to do that, we’re going to rotate guys in and get everyone developed.”  
Antonio Gonzales got the start in the opener and pitched 2 1/2 scoreless innings. Jake Rutten replaced Gonzales in the third inning and his back-to-back balks put Sandia Prep’s Zech Vick on third base. Rutten threw a wild pitch that sent Vick to home and gave the Sundevils a 1-0 lead.
The Hilltoppers responded in the following inning when Travis Gonzales’ 2-RBI triple scored Nick Quartieri from second and Cottrell Fox from first to give Los Alamos a 2-1 lead.
Sandia Prep (2-2) didn’t go away and regained the lead in the bottom of the fifth, after a bunt loaded the bases, the Sundevils capitalized by scoring three runs in the frame. Travis Gonzales, who replaced Rutten in the bottom of the fifth, gave up a bases loaded walk that scored Jacob Nicholson. A wild pitch gave the Sundevils a 3-2 lead and a RBI groundout extended the lead.
The Hilltoppers were unable to get past Joe Martinez as he stepped up to the mound in the top of the sixth and struck out five batters in the final two innings.
“We have some minor things that we have clean up. We just have to work each practice to get better and keep the foot on the gas to improve everyday,” Neal said. “We told them before the game that every single one of them can play three positions and it was apparent in the game.”
While Saturday was the season opener for Los Alamos, the Sundevils had already played two games earlier in the week. Neal said it was a non-factor.
“I honestly didn’t know that they had played two games,” Neal said. “We had a game plan to get after it for the first game and getting everyone some reps.”
The Los Alamos offense came alive in the second game and led the Hilltoppers to a run-rule victory in five innings. Los Alamos scored three first-inning runs, which were capped off by a Rutten double that scored Quartieri and Travis Gonzales.
Sandia Prep answered with a four-run first inning before Los Alamos scored three in the second. The Hilltoppers added three more runs in the third and capitalized on troublesome pitching from Sandia Prep to score seven runs in the top of the fourth.
“Our approach all year long is to be on time for your pitch and don’t miss it,” Neal said. “We preach a lot of getting the barrel out and staying aggressive at the plate. And it paid off today.”
The Sundevils avoided a run-rule in the fourth by scoring two runs. But Los Alamos sealed the win by adding five more runs in the top of the fifth.
Luke Kirkland, Matt Wallers and Arthur Steinkamp all made appearances on the mound for Los Alamos.
“This bunch of kids have an awesome attitude,” Neal said. “They give effort 100 percent all the time.  We’ll be moving guys all over the place and that’s one of our strengths. We rely on all 15.”  
The Hilltoppers begin the St. Pius tournament against Las Cruces High at 1 p.m. Thursday in Albuquerque.