Baseball: 'Toppers split big doubleheader with Spartans

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By Mike Cote

With only a handful of games left in the 2011 season, the Los Alamos Hilltopper baseball team is still in good shape in the District 2-4A race.
Despite having to settle for a home split Friday afternoon, the Hilltoppers are still ahead of the pack at 7-1 in the district standings. The Hilltoppers lost a close game one contest Friday, but didn’t waste any time bouncing back in game two, scoring 10 runs in the bottom of the first to pick up that win.
Los Alamos took on the Bernalillo Spartans Friday at Bomber Field. Bernalillo and Los Alamos, which have become the two dominant teams in district over the last several seasons, were playing for first place in the district standings.
Bernalillo took the first game in eight innings 3-2, while Los Alamos pounded Bernalillo in the second game, 12-1, closing out that contest in the minimum five innings.
The split not only gave Los Alamos (10-10 overall) a three-game lead over Española Valley heading into Saturday – the Sundevils and Santa Fe’s Demons had a doubleheader scheduled Saturday but results hadn’t been reported as of press time – it also gave Los Alamos effectively a 3-1/2-game lead over Bernalillo (9-10, 4-3 in 2-4A) as Los Alamos now owns the season tiebreaker between the two.
“We’re in control of our own future,” said Hilltopper Billy Cooper, who had one of the biggest hits in the 10-run onslaught early in game two. “We’re not coming down. We’ll play our best the rest of the year.”
Cooper’s two-strike single in the first drove home a pair of runs to put Los Alamos up 3-0 and really get the rally rolling. Cooper would follow that up with a RBI single in the third.
Just two batters later, Kevin Smale delivered a two-run single with the bases loaded. The next batter, No. 9 hitter Nick Baker, crushed a fastball over the wall in dead center for a three-run home run. Baker was the first batter faced by Bernalillo relief pitcher Derrick Quintana.
Starting pitcher Forest McCook lasted just a third of an inning before giving way to Quintana. Quintana would be hit up for another long ball later in the inning, a two-run shot by Jared Mang, his fifth of the year.
“We were just rolling,” Cooper said. “We had our heads up. It’s our time.”
Quintana actually settled in following that and used some good breaking balls to quell the Hilltoppers for much of the rest of the game, but by that time the damage had been done.
Los Alamos manager Mike Gill said it was critical that the Hilltoppers get off to a good start in the second game and his team responded with one of its biggest innings of the season.
“We’ve talked about this before,” Gill said. “Sometimes the toughest part is staying focused for 14 innings. A good start in the second game is more important than a good start in the first game.”
In the opener, Hilltopper pitcher JD Weiss threw 7-1/3 innings of solid ball, but Bernalillo squeezed out a run in the eighth to go up 3-2. Weiss, who has turned into Los Alamos’ ace during this district season, earned Los Alamos’ first 2-4A win by holding the strong Spartan lineup to just three runs in a complete game outing March 22.
Weiss was outdueled Friday by Bernalillo’s Thomas Duran, one of the best pitchers in the district but who has been battling injury all season.
Mang went all five innings for the Hilltoppers, giving up just the lone run in the fifth with the Spartans fighting to keep the game going.
Gill said he’s been very impressed with his pitching staff during district play.
Should Los Alamos top Santa Fe Wednesday at home – the Hilltoppers have battered the Demons in three meetings this season – and win either end of its doubleheader against Española Valley Saturday, it would clinch its third straight 2-4A title.