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Softball: LA falls in 4A first round to St. Pius

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By Mike Cote

LAS CRUCES – With the Los Alamos Hilltoppers entering the Class AAAA championship softball tournament as one of the hottest teams in the state, they were expecting good things from Friday’s first round.

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But Los Alamos couldn’t keep the fire stoked heading into the playoffs.

In Friday morning’s first round of the Class AAAA state tournament, played at the Field of Dreams Complex here, the Hilltopper softball team couldn’t get its potent offense rolling.

While its opening round opponent, St. Pius X, actually fared a little worse in the hitting department, it scraped together just enough offense and got a big hit when it needed one to earn the 4-1 victory and knock Los Alamos out of the tournament early.

The state softball tournament is usually a double-elimination affair, but this season the New Mexico Activities Association, the governing body of most interscholastic prep sports and the organizer of the tournament, voted to go to a single-elimination format in 2010, ostensibly to save competing schools money.

It was a disappointing end to the season for Los Alamos, which, following a slow start to the season, got rolling in a big way in time for district play.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Hilltopper second baseman Stephanie Abney said. “It’s the last game for all the seniors. It would’ve ended anyway, but I’m glad we got to play together.”

Abney, a senior herself, drove in the lone run of the game for the Hilltoppers, knocking in catcher Micaela Christensen in the fourth inning to give her team a 1-0 lead at the time.

Up to that point and until the Hilltoppers’ final at-bat, the offense wouldn’t be able to string two hits together against St. Pius pitcher Nicole Madrid.

Madrid, a freshman, painted both corners of the plate effectively all game long and used a good riseball to ring up more than a couple of Hilltopper batters.

“She really stepped up,” St. Pius manager Erik Mendoza said. “She’s shown a lot of composure. She was definitely very strong in the circle (Friday).”

Madrid fanned 10 batters in the contest, including striking out the side following an inning-opening base hit by Abney in the second inning.

On the other end, Hilltopper ace Monika Teter fanned eight batters and gave up just four hits in the game – only two hits came before the final inning and allowed just two earned runs.

However, the Sartans, a light-hitting squad who were relegated to small-ball throughout the contest, were very good at working the count, particularly lead-off hitter Katrina Garcia, who reached base on each of her first three plate appearances without getting a hit. The Sartans earned some key walks in the game, the biggest being Daniela Dusct’s walk in the fifth inning with the bases loaded to force home the tying run.

Although the Sartans got their leadoff hitter on in all but two innings Friday, Teter was able to pitch around them until the fifth, when the Sartans scored two runs to take their first lead of the ballgame.

Los Alamos had seven hits in the contest off Madrid, who threw a complete game to earn the victory.

Prior to the tournament loss, Los Alamos had won 15 of its last 16 contests, including going 12-0 against its District 2AAAA opponents during that span.

However, until Friday, Los Alamos hadn’t played a game since May 1. Los Alamos, which had been swinging hot bats throughout the second half of the season, couldn’t find a groove against Madrid.

Asked if the layoff took some wind out of Los Alamos’ sails, Hilltopper second-year manager Roger Anaya said “a little bit.

“We hit the ball well in practice the last week, but here, you’re facing a different pitcher you haven’t seen,” he said.

The Hilltoppers went up 1-0 in the fourth when Christensen singled back up the box with one out. With Abney, the clean-up hitter at the plate, Christensen broke for second base. The throw from St. Pius catcher Ally Hakeem to second base was right on target and might have retired Christensen if either of the Sartans’ middle infielders had been anywhere near second when the ball got there.

Abney immediately followed with base hit which scored Christensen standing up to give the Hilltoppers their 1-0 edge.

The next half inning, however, the Sartans put their first two runners on base via a walk and an error. After a sacrifice bunt moved the runners into scoring position, Anaya elected to walk Vanessa Garcia intentionally to load the bases.

The next batter, Meagan Aragon, grounded to Abney, who threw to home to retire Katrina Garcia, but Dusct drew a walk against Teter on five pitches to force home a run. A passed ball allowed another run home, but Aragon also attempted to score on the play and was tagged out at home by Christensen.

Bitonel dropped a flare down the third baseline which got into the corner for a triple to start the final inning. The next batter, Hakeem, doubled into the left-center alley and would eventually score on a wild pitch later in the inning.

In their final at-bat with two outs and nobody on, the Hilltoppers made one final push to get back into the ballgame. Teter, on a 2-strike count, doubled off the left field wall. That was followed by an infield hit from Mariah Zerr – one of only two Hilltoppers, Abney being the other, to have more than one hit – that also came on a 2-strike count.

But Madrid recovered and blew one of her best fastballs of the game past Kristina Radosevich for the final out of the contest.

“I felt like we were a little tense coming out, but we loosened up,” said Abney, who has plans of attending Colorado State University in the fall. “We really fought in that last inning. Monika’s hit and Mariah’s slap, that was beautiful.”

The Hilltoppers finish the 2010 season with a record of 18-9.

“It was a great year,” Anaya said. “I’m very proud that all the girls fought hard. We never give up.”

Friday’s game was the finale in the prep careers of seven seniors, Abney, Megan Breiner, Samantha D’Anna, Shelby Courtright, Shannon Krause, Brianna Radosevich and Ashley Valdez.