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Jumping into the season with both feet is challenge enough as it is, but the Los Alamos Hilltopper softball team will be doing so without several of its key personnel.
Today, the Hilltoppers will open their season at Overlook Park, taking on the Class 4A Belen Eagles at 4 p.m.
That game will be the first of six contests in this first week of the regular season. Along with Belen, which started off the season with a big 12-4 victory over Sandia Prep Friday, Los Alamos will also see heavyweights in Cleveland, a well-respected Class 5A team and Piedra Vista, the 800-pound gorilla of Class 4A.
Los Alamos will have to do so without the services of Erin Kirk and Kiana Zerr, two regular starters, among others who are still playing basketball and could continue for two more weeks.
The absences have limited the Hilltoppers’ workouts a little bit, Los Alamos manager Roger Anaya said, but he said there’s been plenty to drill on during the preseason.
“We’ve been concentrating a lot on defense the last three or four weeks,” said Anaya, who is going into his fifth year steering the Hilltoppers. “Batting’s been a little challenging early this season because it’s been pretty cold, but as the weather has warmed up, we’ve had some good batting practice.”
Along with a tough early season schedule, the Hilltoppers will have to adjust to life without 4-year ace pitcher and 2-time district Player of the Year Monika Teter. Teter, a fireballer, logged more innings than all the other Los Alamos varsity pitchers put together during her career and started virtually all of the team’s big games since her freshman year.
To replace Teter, the Hilltoppers will turn to Emilee Jones, who threw in a few district contests last year, and Jordan Hammock, who has thrown some solid innings at the sub-varsity level.
Both have an array of 3-to-4 pitches and Hammock has good velocity on her fastball.
Los Alamos has been working hard to shore up the defense behind them, as well, so they aren’t afraid to pitch to contact.
Hilltopper shortstop Dancie Smith thinks the infield is up to the challenge.
“I think we’re doing really good,” she said. “The infield is good. We need to keep improving in the outfield…I have confidence in the team.”
Los Alamos also has high hopes that its offense will come through. It has reason to be optimistic with slugger Micaela Christensen, who will play in college next year for Taylor University in Indiana, returning for her senior season and Kristin Christensen and Kirk, when she returns, offering protection for Micaela Christensen in the batting order.
Christensen is one of the most prolific offensive players in Hilltopper history, slamming 16 career home runs and had a career batting average of .427.
In 2012, Los Alamos’ offense produced 227 runs in 28 games, scoring 10 runs or more 10 times.
The Hilltoppers finished the 2012 season with a 20-8 record, going 11-1 in District 2-4A play to earn their third straight district title. They advanced to the Class 4A playoffs, topping St. Pius X in the first round but getting bounced in the quarterfinals 10-0 by Los Lunas.
Los Alamos will face St. Pius during the nondistrict season, that game scheduled for March 26, as well as 4A foes Belen and Moriarty.
The big challenges could be Los Alamos’ two nondistrict tournaments, at Piedra Vista next weekend and at the Kristin Griego Invitational in Rio Rancho March 29-30.
Los Alamos’ Alyssa Mojica, who was the team’s designated hitter for a good portion of last year but will likely see time at third base this year, said the early season schedule presents some big challenges, particularly without the basketball players.
“I’m really nervous about that,” Mojica said. “I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out, but if we keep our bats going, we’ll do fine.”
NOTE: Today's game will be broadcast on KRSN AM 1490. Gene Mortensen, the "Voice of the Hilltoppers," will be on the call live from Overlook Park.