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In the opening round of the Class 4A baseball tournament last weekend, the Los Alamos Hilltoppers seemed to have a tough draw when they faced off against the Aztec Tigers.
Thursday, the Hilltoppers seem to have a tough draw as well, but the Hilltoppers are hoping they rise to that challenge the same way they rose to the challenge against the Tigers.
Los Alamos, the No. 8 seed in the 4A playoffs, advances to play the No. 1 seed, the Piedra Vista Panthers, in Thursday’s quarterfinal round. The Los Alamos-Piedra Vista contest is scheduled for noon at La Cueva High School in Albuquerque.
That Los Alamos (19-9) is squaring off against Piedra Vista should come as no surprise. The Panthers (19-9) have been the top 4A team in the state all season and are the three-time defending state champions.
Los Alamos got to see Piedra Vista first hand in the first two games of the 2013 regular season. At Ricketts Park, one of the top venues in the state for baseball, the Panthers thumped the Hilltoppers in a doubleheader, 12-0 and 9-1. The Hilltoppers managed just one hit in the first game and four more in the nightcap.
The season-opening losses were part of a rough stretch for the Hilltoppers to start.
They lost 8 of their first 10 contests, but since that time have gone 17-1, including winning the District 2 crown convincingly and dropping Aztec, which finished third behind the Panthers and the Farmington Scorpions in the District 1 race.
In the opening round at state, the Panthers easily dispatched 16th-seeded Bernalillo, the only other team from District 2 to be invited to the playoffs, by scores of 10-0 and 11-1.
Los Alamos topped Aztec 11-1 in the series opener Friday, then came back from a 4-0 deficit in the second game to score nine unanswered runs to win and move on to the quarterfinal round.
This is the Hilltoppers’ first visit to the quarterfinal round since 2009.
Only one of the eight first round best-of-3 series needed more than the minimum two games to complete. Only 13th-seeded Valencia was able to take a game off the favored Santa Teresa Warriors, the No. 4 seed, in last week’s opening round.
Los Alamos, of course, is led by Jared Mang, who is both the team’s ace pitcher and top hitter. Mang sports a .667 batting average and an eye-popping 1.133 slugging percentage.
Mang threw a five-inning complete game in the Hilltoppers’ first playoff game against Aztec, in which the Hilltoppers scored eight runs in the bottom of the fifth — thanks in no small part to five Aztec errors in the inning — to close out a game which was just one hit away from being tied in the top of the fifth.
Class 4A Playoff Schedule
(8) Los Alamos vs. (1) Piedra Vista at La Cueva High School, noon.
(5) Los Lunas vs. (4) Santa Teresa at La Cueva High School, 3 p.m.
(6) Albuquerque Academy vs. (3) Farmington at Eldorado High School, 3 p.m.
(7) St. Pius X vs. (2) Goddadrd at Eldorado High School, noon.
Los Alamos-Piedra Vista winner vs. Los Lunas-Santa Teresa winner at Cleveland High School, 1 p.m.
Academy-Farmington winner vs. St. Pius-Goddard winner at Cleveland High School, 7 p.m.
Semifinal winners at Lobo Field, 3 p.m.