ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There are seasons, John Gunther said, when baseball coaches begin quietly tempering their expectations well before opening day.
Those are the years when an assessment of early practices generates only the mildest optimism.
“Some years you go, ‘Hmmm. I hope we can win 12 games this year,'” said Gunther, Sandia’s interim head coach.
But it didn’t take long for Gunther — who spent the past five years as a Sandia assistant — to realize that 2012 wasn’t one of those years. It became clear during off-season workouts last October and November that the talented and cohesive Matadors “had a chance to do something very special,” he said.
Already in possession of the 2012 Metro Championship, the top-ranked Matadors reached another milestone Saturday: clinching a District 2-5A title for the first time in a decade.
Sandia (19-5, 7-2 in 2-5A) needed just one win in a doubleheader at Eldorado to ensure it stayed ahead of second-ranked La Cueva in the league race. The Matadors dropped the opener, 5-2, but rebounded to win the second game, 3-0, behind Taylor Duree’s no-hitter.
Duree, a senior who struck out seven and walked three, called the district title far more satisfying than his individual achievement. Thoughts of his own stats barely registered in his mind as he focused on the team goal, he said.
“It’s nice to be first over Eldorado and La Cueva,” Duree said. “It’s a good feeling.”
Breaking through in a league that includes the Bears — who won the previous two state titles and seven of the last nine — is a “giant deal,” said Matadors outfielder Derek Blaisuis.
Blaisuis drew a two-out walk in the pivotal third inning of Game 2 to spark the Matadors’ offense. The next four batters all reached base, including David Gunther, who drove in Blaisuis with an RBI double for the game’s first run — and the only one the Matadors would need.
“No one expects us to do anything (at Sandia). We’re showing up and making a name for ourselves again,” said Blaisuis. “La Cueva dominates our sport completely; they dominate everything. It’s nice to take something over them and show that our baseball team can come through.”
Eldorado (14-10) is no slouch either, boasting its own rich baseball history. The seventh-ranked Eagles won four titles between 1997 and 2001 and finished as runners-up in 2005 and 2006.
District 2-5A, Gunther said, is “kind of like SEC football.”
That must make Sandia this year’s LSU. But unlike LSU — which won the SEC before losing to conference rival Alabama in this year’s BCS championship — the Matadors want to finish the job. They want to hoist a blue trophy in two weeks at Isotopes Park for their school’s first baseball title since 1980.
“We get back to work on Monday and prepare for state,” Blaisuis said. “You take this as a small victory, but we have a bigger goal ahead of us.”
— This article appeared on page D8 of the Albuquerque Journal