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Softball hopes to flip the script at state

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By Phil Scherer

For four years in a row, it has been the same story for the Los Alamos High School softball team. Every year since 2014, the Hilltoppers have done enough to get into the state championship playoffs, but have been beaten by double digits in the first round. 

This year, as the No. 10 seed, LAHS has a chance to reverse that curse as it takes on No. 7 seed Aztec High School on Thursday to advance to the quarterfinals. 

This is the highest the Hilltoppers have been seeded in the tournament in recent memory, after earning the No. 11 seed each of the past two years. 

All of the games at the 2018 State Softball Championships will be played at a neutral site, beginning at Cleveland High School for the first two rounds. 

The top four seeds at the tournament receive a bye to the second round, and will play the winners of the four play-in games in the quarterfinals. 

All of the first round games will be played at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, and the quarterfinals will follow at 12:30 p.m. 

Though it may seem like this team will follow a similar trend to previous years, this year’s Hilltoppers have reason to believe they are different. The main reason for the success is that this team sustained consistency better than any of its predecessors, entering the playoffs on an 11-game win streak dating back to March 31, when the team lost its district opener to Española Valley. 

And though the team’s pitching struggled at times, the offense rarely did, scoring 299 runs during the regular season, the most in Class 5A, ahead of second-place teams Alamogordo and Capital, which both scored 270 runs. 

LAHS’ run total is far higher than previous years. Last year, the Hilltoppers sent 227 runs across the plate, and in 2016 they scored 208 times. 

Following the team’s regular season-ending doubleheader sweep against Capital, head coach Randy Burditt said, “If teams try to out hit us, they are going to find out they can’t do it.”

The offense has been the story of the season for LAHS, scoring double-digit runs in 10 of the 11 games in the win streak to end the regular season. The only time the Hilltoppers failed to score 10 runs, the team won 8-7. 

The only thing standing between LAHS and a spot in the elusive quarterfinals is a talented Aztec team that has already defeated the Hilltoppers once this season. 

In the first game of the season at the Piedra Vista Tournament, Aztec easily handled the Hilltoppers, winning 16-0 in three innings and picking apart LAHS pitchers Reyna Lucero and Savana Luster. 

Aztec had an up-and-down season the rest of the year, going 13-13 while playing in District 1-5A, which sent four teams to the state championship tournament. 

Aztec relies heavily on its offensive stars, Autumn Peterson and Jocelyn Ulrich. Peterson batted .386 this season, hitting five home runs and driving in 28 runs. Ulrich proved to be one of the top hitters in the state, batting .536, hitting nine home runs and driving in 39 runs. 

As a team, Aztec batted .348 and hit 23 home runs. 

On the pitching side, Avery Adair was a workhorse for the Tigers, appearing in 24 of the team’s 26 games, and throwing 126 innings. She had an ERA of 4.16, and struck out 80 batters, walking just 48 and earning a record of 12-9. 

Aztec enters the tournament on a five-game winning streak, ending the regular season with a pair of impressive 19-0 shutouts against Kirtland Central. Aztec’s season ended on Friday, as opposed to LAHS’ season, which ended on April 28 giving the Hilltoppers plenty of rest between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs. 

The Class 5A 2018 NMAA State Softball Championships are seeded as follows:

1. Artesia

2. Lovington

3. Valencia

4. Los Lunas

5. Farmington

6. Alamogordo

7. Aztec

8. Gallup

9. Belen

10. Los Alamos

11. Bloomfield

12. Deming