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Softball: Young LA team starts season Friday

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By Mike Cote

It was a tournament to remember.“Last year, it was about 25 degrees and about 30 mile-per-hour winds,” Randy Burditt said. “I think it was the coldest I’ve ever been in Farmington.”Burditt, manager of the Los Alamos Hilltopper softball team, can’t wait to get back to the Four Corners, however. He’s ready to get onto the field and see what his team can do this season.Los Alamos opens up its 2008 campaign Friday when it plays in the Piedra Vista Invitational. Los Alamos starts the tournament with El Paso (Texas) Parkland.The team will play two games Friday and two games Saturday.This will be the youngest squad Burditt has had in his eight years at the helm. On the roster this season are five sophomores, two freshmen and an eighth-grader to go along with four seniors and two juniors.With a young squad, there will likely be plenty of bumps on the road. However, the Hilltoppers think those bumps could get smoothed over in fairly short order.“I’m really impressed,” Cassandra Arellano, the team’s senior catcher, said during Tuesday’s practice. “I was really scared before the (preseason) started, but I’m blown away. We have a wonderful team.”Arellano will make up half of a solid battery. Burditt said his pitchers have worked hard throughout the preseason and should be ready to chew up as many innings as necessary from the get-go.Ashley Merhege, who threw about five innings in a scrimmage against Santa Fe last week, thinks she’s good for about 150 pitches per game, although no one on the squad is hoping that will be necessary.“I’ve been doing really good,” Merhege said. “All my pitches are working, pretty much. I think it will be my best year pitching.”Merhege features a dirty breaking ball in her arsenal, which she said is working as well as any pitch she’s throwing right now.Briana Radosevich, Stephanie Abney, both sophomores, and Monika Teter, the first eighth-grader the varsity has featured under Burditt’s tenure, will also see time on the slab.The pressure could be on the staff early in the season with young players still adjusting to positions and run support at a premium.On defense, Los Alamos graduated almost all of its infield. Its top returning position player is Megan Burditt, who signed to play with Western Nebraska following graduation this year.Burditt, who can play several different positions, will start at center field for game one.Burditt, however, doesn’t think defense will be a gigantic issue, as she observed against Santa Fe.“During the scrimmage we turned a double play,” she said. “We hadn’t even practiced that yet. It was awesome we could still turn it.”Samantha Aumack, who played in left field last season, will move to third base to start this season.Aumack, a senior, has been fighting through a left knee injury, but said it’s almost back to 100 percent. She missed preseason workout time and is just now starting to get into a normal workout routine.Psychologically, however, she’s got plenty to worry about.“You know that Queen song ‘Under Pressure?’ That’s kind of what it’s like for me,” she said. “But I’ve seen these girls. They’re going to be great.”Last season, the Hilltoppers went 15-10 overall and 9-3 in District 2AAAA, taking the district’s runner-up spot. They fell in the first round of the state tournament to Silver, 12-4.Los Alamos started off 2007 slowly, going 3-5 in its first eight games, but started to get things rolling in late March, winning six of seven at one stretch.The 2008 version believes it can pick up mostly where it left off.“We’re looking great,” Megan Burditt said. “We’re not nearly looking as young as our age actually is. We’re looking a lot more experienced.”Following this weekend’s openers, Los Alamos will take part in the St. Pius X Invitational next weekend. Among its other big nondistrict games is a March 18 date at Moriarty and a March 25 meeting at home against Belen.It will also host a tournament March 28 at Overlook Park.District 2AAAA play starts April 9 when Los Alamos travels to Taos.“We’re young, but the girls seem to be excited,” coach Burditt said. “We’ve got great senior leadership coming out. I’m really excited.”