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Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Los Alamos shortstop Tyler Neal (4) makes a play in a hole in a recent game against Santa Fe. He’s also expected to pitch and be one of the Hilltoppers’ top hitters. (Glen Rosales/For The Journal)

Sure, March Madness, New Mexico style, has only just begun with the first round of high school state tournament games this past weekend to serve as a tasty appetizer for this coming week’s main course as everyone strives to play in the Pit.

But the local prep baseball squads are also hitting the fields in the start of their journeys toward May and possible state tournament appearances.

This is a brief look at some teams that have been regulars in contending for post-season berths.

Class 5A

Santa Fe High baseball coach Ian Farris knows a little something about reaching the state tournament as he played on the last Demons squad to achieve that stature.

Unfortunately, that was in 2009.

“It really feels like a long time,” Farris said. “I experienced it before. We’re trying to pull it back to that place.”

Ferris is entering his third year at the helm and each season, the squad gets a little stronger and a little more competitive.

“Every year, we get a little better at our process,” he said. “We get a little better at our team goals and team standards. Every year, we get a little bit closer. We’re hoping that this year is the year.”

It will be something of a different look for the Demons, however, as the team’s big bombers and top pitchers have graduated.

“I think we’re a little bit of a different team than we have been in the past,” Farris said. “We had more power, and somebody that we would define as an ace. This year, we’re more of a contact-style team. We have a lot of new guys to the varsity. But we have a lot of pitchers. We have nine pitchers that we are confident in.”

Jeremy Martinez uncorks a pitch in a recent game against Los Alamos. In addition to being the Demons’ staff ace, Martinez is one of the team’s best hitters. (Glen Rosales/For The Journal)

The top man on the hill will be left-handed junior Jeremy Martinez.

“He had a couple of dominant starts last year,” the coach said. “We’re hoping that now, as a junior, he’ll be bigger and stronger.”

Offensively, juniors Dominic Arellano, Gabriel Alarcon and Adrian Ortega are the big returning bats.

Class 4A

After a standout regular season in which Los Alamos went 19-7 and earned a seventh seed in the state tournament, things ended with a thud as Los Lunas took the opening playoff series two games to one.

“I think what they learned is when they get to that level, everybody is good,” coach Bryan Neal said. “I think what they took away from it, when you get to state playoffs, everybody is good, period.”

The Hilltoppers bid adieu to seven strong seniors, so they are younger than they have been in a while.

“We have a lot of good things to build on,” he said. “This group is a little younger than last year, but they have a lot of game time. The junior varsity did a great job with guys coming up and getting them ready to contribute at the varsity level.”

The JV went 15-4 last season and now several of those players are expected to step right in, among them sophomore outfielder Tyler Swavely and junior infielder Luc Chavez.

Junior Tyler Neal will be counted on to be one of the top pitchers and sophomore Taylor Drake also will looked to for solid innings, the coach said.

“We have a lot of arms that we can use in different situations,” Neal said. “This year, we can rely on the entire staff of six or seven pitchers. It will be a nice change from last year when we pretty much relied on three guys. We’ll be able to work in some different guys and see how they can contribute.”

Class 3A

Seeing “Robertson” stitched across the uniforms just tends to fire up opponents. It will be even more so this season and the Cardinals can also add “state champions” atop their résumé. So getting them geared up for a repeat will not be difficult, coach Leroy Gonzalez said.

“First of all, it’s easy. Everybody wants to beat Robertson,” he said. “They know that. We have to make sure we take care of what we can take care of. Get better every day. Pitch well. We can’t worry about anything else but what we can do.”

The Cardinals will be replacing three big-time players, including two pitchers, but rebuilding is rarely a word used at Robertson. It’s just a matter of the next player up.

“We’re going to have to fill spots,” Gonzalez said. “But I think we have a good crop of younger kids that have played a lot of baseball.”

When it comes to veteran leadership, though, it starts with senior pitcher/outfield Antonio Padilla. All he did last season was hit .417 with 44 runs and 21 steals, while going 5-2 with a 0.89 earned-run average.

Juniors Jason Gold and Carlos Marrujo both showed great promise on the mound a year ago, winning nine games between them.

“We’re going to we have a pretty good pitching crew,” Gonzalez said.

Like Padilla, Gold and Marrujo are both solid hitters, and juniors Isiah Ortiz (.357) and Derek Montaño (.323) will complement the offense.

Class 1A/2A

After dominating its district for the past four seasons, Mora likely will be scrambling some this season.

Mora sophomore Diego Aragon is the only returning Ranger with significant experience. (Courtesy of Shannon Stephen Aragon)

Twelve players from the 17-man roster graduated and of the remaining five returners, only Diego Aragon saw much success and playing time.

So, now, Aragon, a sophomore, will be looked upon as the leader and go-to player for the Rangers.

“It’s definitely a rebuild and restart or reboot, or whatever you want to call it,” coach Manuel Benavidez said. “We’re going to be super, super young. We’re inexperienced.”

Aragon will see time on the mound and will be plugged in around the field when not pitching.

“He’s one of those kids who has been around me for a long time,” Benavidez said. “He does stuff on his own. He’s one of those basketball kids, too, so I don’t get them until they’re done. But this summer he was lighting up the ball. I’m hoping even with some of these older boys and younger boys, his ability and knowledge will rub off on them a little bit.”

For some of the players, they have not been on the ball field since their Little League or even T-Ball days, Benavidez said.

“It’s actually got me a little energized,” he said. “The past few seasons, the guys have been in the program for a while, and they were pretty good athletes and knew what they were doing. Now, I have to do a lot of individual coaching. We’re having to teach again. Some of the kids we’ve got have a lack of fundamentals that we really haven’t had to touch on in the past few years.”

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