'Toppers close out Aztec, advance in state playoffs

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By Mike Cote

In the bottom of the fifth of a tight ballgame Friday, the Los Alamos Hilltoppers exploded. The Aztec Tigers imploded.

Los Alamos pushed eight runs across in the bottom of the fifth to close out game one of the best-of-3 series in the first round of the Class 4A baseball tournament Friday. Los Alamos had three hits in the inning and Aztec committed five errors including a wild throw to the plate that brought home Trevor Pacheco to close out the contest early.

The Hilltoppers won Friday’s game at Bomber Field 11-1.

The Hilltoppers closed out Aztec Saturday with a 9-4 victory as it rallied from a 4-0 deficit at Bomber Field by scoring four runs in the fourth inning and adding five more in the fifth.

Los Alamos likely will play top seeded Piedra Vista Thursday at LaCueva High School. Jake Downs got the win for the Hilltoppers, going the distance giving up eight hits.

Friday’s game had all the earmarks of a pitcher’s duel early, with Tanner Moore retiring five straight to open the game – he struck out Los Alamos leadoff batter Connor Mang to open the first but Mang reached base on a passed ball. Moore probably didn’t realize it at the time, but that passed ball would be a harbinger of things to come.

However, Moore got out of the first unscathed, even after Mang advanced to third in the inning, then would pitch his way out of a big jam in the second.

Los Alamos starter Jared Mang ran into trouble in the second inning as well, but left two Tiger runners stranded by getting Noah Froan to bounce out to short.

The Tigers actually got on the board first in the top of the third, but Los Alamos struck right back in the bottom of the third to score three runs. Jake Downs, Jared Mang and Steven Williams all came through with consecutive run-scoring hits to give the Hilltoppers a 3-1 edge.

Moore, who had featured a good mix of hard stuff and some sharp, down-breaking curveballs, through four innings, had trouble controlling his stuff in the fifth. Meanwhile, Aztec’s defense fell apart at the seams, committing three errors in a six-batter span to leave the bases loaded for relief pitcher Dylan Stinson.

Stinson, after another defensive error and a walk, retired two straight batters and appeared to be in position to at least keep the Tigers alive for the sixth inning.

But Jared Mang, who was 3-for-4 on the contest and who’d already singled earlier in the fifth, drilled a single into right field. Pacheco, who had reached on an error earlier in the inning, was stopped by Hilltopper manager Mike Gill at third.

An errant throw from the outfield, however, sailed toward the plate well after Pacheco had put his brakes on. The throw went well wide of home and all the way to the backstop, allowing Pacheco to score the game-winning run.

Along with his big day at the plate, Mang went all five innings, giving up just the one unearned run in the third. He allowed just three hits, walked two and struck out three.

Catcher Tristen Hill, who faced Moore immediately following an intentional walk to Williams, drilled a line drive back up the box to score two runs in the bottom of the fifth, one of the big Hilltopper hits of the contest.