Toppers, Spartans meet in district openers

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Baseball/Softball: Spartan boys are struggling but girls are among 4A’s toughest teams

By Mike Cote

The District 2-4A baseball and softball seasons officially get going for Los Alamos Saturday and both in the same spot.
Both the Hilltopper teams will meet up for big doubleheaders against what has been their toughest district rival in recent years. Los Alamos will square off against the Bernalillo Spartans for twin twinbills in Bernalillo.
The Spartan softball team has been as good as any team in 4A so far. The Spartan baseball team has limped out of the gate but could turn its season around in a hurry with a good showing against Los Alamos.
In softball, Bernalillo has put up a nondistrict mark of 8-1, one of the best won-loss records in all of 4A, better than Artesia, Piedra Vista and St. Pius X, although all three of those teams have had stouter schedules than have the Spartans.
Bernalillo has put up runs in bunches this season. It has been held under 10 runs in just two games this season and already has three wins over Belen and a win over Albuquerque Academy. It also topped Española Valley 18-5 at a tournament in Grants, although that win doesn’t count in the 2-4A standings.
So far, Bernalillo has outscored its opponents 132-14 and has earned shutout wins in six of its nine contests. Its only loss was against Rio Rancho, which nipped Bernalillo 5-4 in Rio Rancho two weeks ago.
The Spartans are a senior-heavy squad that’s loaded with hitters and Hilltopper manager Roger Anaya said his team will have to get its offense going to counter.
“They’re going to score some runs,” he said. “The good thing is right now we’re getting hits with runners on base. That’s something I’m really happy to see.”
Anaya said ace pitcher Monika Teter will likely start the first game Saturday and may pitch both games depending on how everything goes.
Teter was nearly unhittable Tuesday, striking out 13 batters in five innings against Pojoaque. However, Teter has also been logging heavy innings of late — she pitched in all three of the Hilltoppers’ games last weekend, winning two of them — and Los Alamos’ coaches will be monitoring her mechanics closely.
The Hilltoppers (5-4) have won three of their last four contests and have put up good offensive numbers through most of the season. Along with topping Pojoaque 16-0 Tuesday, the Hilltoppers outslugged Shiprock 11-7 and Moriarty 12-7 this season. In recent years, big run totals have been tough to come by.
Los Alamos’ baseball team is looking to get things started on the right foot this district season and Saturday could be the day to do that.
While it’s not taking anything for granted at this point, it may have a favorable jumping-off point with Saturday’s doubleheader. That hasn’t been true for most of the recent past, as Bernalillo has been a pretty tough customer in 2-4A.
But this season, the Spartans have struggled, particularly in an area they hadn’t previously struggled: putting runs on the board. Bernalillo (2-7) has been held to three runs or less in seven of its nine contests and has managed just four runs in its last two outings.
The Spartans, however, have had a pretty challenging schedule, facing off against Piedra Vista — taking a 20-3 drubbing — and Los Lunas.
Bernalillo has managed to keep close in some of those contests — in the first game of a doubleheader against Los Lunas, it was nipped 3-1, but was pummeled in the nightcap — which may mean the Spartan pitching staff seems top-heavy.
Los Alamos manager Mike Gill said he doesn’t concern himself much with how the teams in 2-4A have played prior to district as it doesn’t necessarily give a clear snapshot of their relative strength.
“Most of the teams in this district go to state in basketball,” he said. “You’re not going to get a good account of who they are or what they’ve done…most of these teams don’t hit their stride until later.”
In both pitching and offense, it would seem the Hilltoppers have the advantage going in. The Hilltoppers’ rotation is deep and it’s getting good innings from some of its younger members, particularly freshman Danny Finn. Offensively, the Hilltoppers have been able to manufacture runs this season from the top-to-bottom of its lineup rather than rely on the heart of its batting order to drive in runs.
Los Alamos, sitting at 8-5, has won seven of its last nine contests and is above .500 heading into district play for the first time in several seasons.
JD Weiss, the team’s ace, is scheduled to throw in Saturday’s opener, while Steven Williams is penciled in as the game two starter. Finn will be available for long relief as needed.
Los Alamos and Bernalillo have battled it out for the district title for each of the last five years. Gill said the games could be close ones but the outcome will depend on how his team executes.
“The kids are feeling good,” he said. “We’re playing good baseball, but we’ve been off for a week. In baseball, that’s not necessarily a good thing. We’ll see if the kids can keep their focus.”