Softball: Toppers blanked in first round at state

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By Mike Cote

FARMINGTON – If every cloud has a silver lining, Randy Burditt hadn’t found it as of Thursday.

Burditt, skipper of the Hilltopper softball team, had to endure along with his squad a constant barrage of rain that fell from the skies throughout Thursday’s first round of the Class AAAA state softball tournament.

Los Alamos also had to endure through a spectacular five-inning performance from one of the top hurlers in the state, Aztec’s Heather Jaquez.

After a slow start, Jaquez settled in and proceeded to mow through the Hilltoppers’ batting order. She got plenty of run support along the way – some of which she provided herself – as Aztec’s Tigers thumped Los Alamos’ Hilltoppers, 12-0 in five innings.

The tournament, which had to endure some dreadful weather Thursday (see sidebar), will continue through Saturday at Ricketts Field.

The first-round loss for the Hilltoppers (14-12) means they will have to go the longest route possible to keep their hopes of a state title alive. They will also now have to play an abbreviated schedule, smashing a potential eight games into the final two days of the tournament.

Aztec, which lost the runner-up title in the brutal District 1AAAA on the basis of a coin flip, was seeded fifth heading into this season’s tournament. Piedra Vista, the district champion, is the top seed in the tournament and winner of the coin flip, Farmington, is seeded third.

“This district is so tough, every week you have to play one of the top five best teams in the state,” Tiger skipper Jose Santistevan said after the win. “We see the best pitching in the state in every game you play. This district gets us ready for this.”

Certainly Jaquez was ready.

The senior, whose fastball has been clocked at better than 60 miles per hour, fanned five straight Hilltoppers and 8 of 10 in one overpowering stretch. Jaquez blew through the side in the second inning, needing only 11 pitches to do so, then did likewise to the first two batters of the third inning.

Aztec competes in the toughest district in the state. Los Alamos? Not so much.

District 2AAAA was one of just two AAAA districts in the state which didn’t provide an at-large entry into this season’s draw. The other was the three-team District 4AAAA.

“I didn’t think the girls played too bad,” Burditt said. “We had some errors that we haven’t had, but really, this is the first true pitcher we’ve seen in 15 games.”

Aztec scored in four of the five innings Thursday, including pushing five runs across in the third and three more in the fourth to close out the contest.

Los Alamos’ Ashley Merhege threw all five innings, taking the loss. For the most part, Merhege was spotting her pitches well – the best Aztec hit of the contest was a sharp single back up the box from Tansi Rudder on a pretty good low, inside fastball.

In the third, however, the Tigers took advantage of three hits and two back-to-back Hilltopper errors to start the inning.

In the fourth, the big blow of the inning was a two-run triple by Rudder, which brought home pinch runners Taylor McGarry and Jessica Kaufman. Rudder would score one batter later on an infield hit.

Los Alamos’ best chance to score came in the first when Brianna Radosevich and Merhege got back-to-back base hits with one out. With both runners in scoring position one batter later, Jaquez struck out catcher Samantha D’Anna and got second baseman Stephanie Abney to roll out to her counterpart.

Jaquez found her groove the next trip to the slab and put on a remarkable performance. She didn’t allow another Hilltopper to reach base for the balance of the game.

“If we had seen her earlier, we might have been a little better prepared,” Hilltopper shortstop Megan Burditt said. “We weren’t as prepared for her curveball as we were for her riseball. You can try to get your hands through quicker, but there’s not much adjusting you can do.”

Los Alamos was schedule to play Deming, which also lost in the first round, in a loser’s bracket game Thursday night but that was postponed to this morning due to weather.