For the first time in three years, there were normal high school baseball and softball seasons, free of masks and condensed schedules.
And for the first time in three years, the Journal presents its All-Metro teams in those two sports.
BASEBALL: The major change from previous incarnations is the addition of two pitchers — one to each of the two teams the Journal selected.
A pair of right-handers, Sandia junior Nico Barela (8-1, 2.72 ERA, 93 strikeouts in 64⅓ innings), who was a fierce and effective right arm for the Matadors, and Albuquerque Academy senior Alex Gaeto (4-2, 1.80 ERA, 88 Ks/50⅔ IP), the Chargers’ ace who had the ball in his hands for virtually all of his team’s key games, are the first-team pitchers in a season that showcased good depth on the bump.
Sandia, a Class 5A state finalist, has three players on the first team. Joining Barela is sophomore outfielder Aiden Griego (.448, 13 doubles, 1.152 OPS) and, as our utility player, standout freshman Adriel Figueroa-Brito (.402, 39 hits, 10 doubles, 1.180 OPS), a player who relished the spotlight and fashioned a marvelous season for the Matadors.
La Cueva also has three first-team selections, led by senior shortstop Akili Carris (.495, 15 doubles, 7 HRs, 38 RBIs), the co-player of the year in District 2-5A along with Sandia’s Griego. Senior catcher David Cooper (.394, 25 RBIs, 3 HRs) and senior first baseman Max McGaha (.500, 42 hits, 27 RBIs) also are on the first team from the Bears.
Rio Grande has a pair of extremely worthy players on the first team in senior designated hitter Eduardo Cardeñas (.607, 7 HRs, 27 BB, 46 RBIs) and speedy junior outfielder Leon Cereceres (.526, 5 HRs, 24-26 stolen base attempts).
One of the most interesting comments comes from veteran Rio Rancho coach Ron Murphy, talking about our first-team second baseman, junior Vascon Smith. Smith, Murphy said, hits the ball as hard as any player he’s seen since former Cibola catcher John Roskos, who eventually reached the major leagues in the Marlins’ organization in the mid-1990s. And if you watched Roskos, as I did, you’d understand what glorious praise that is for Smith.
The first team is rounded out by senior third baseman Nolan Esterly (.400) from Class 4A state champion St. Pius, and senior Volcano Vista outfielder Tony Leger (.463, .515 OBP, 38 hits, 7 doubles, 2 HRs, nine SBs).
SOFTBALL: Four teams — La Cueva, Rio Rancho, Cleveland and Manzano — have a pair of first-team selections.
The pitching slots were especially difficult to hash out. The Journal went with La Cueva sophomore Hannah Hunt, who was outstanding in the second half of the season for the Bears, winning all her district appearances, plus a huge late-season win over Rio Rancho.
Senior first baseman Ashlyn Zapach (.568 BA, 12 HRs, 54 RBIs, 42 runs, 1.074 slugging %) was the anchor bat in the Bears’ young lineup.
Rio Rancho is represented by senior outfielders Kionna King (.406, 13 HRs, 27 RBIs) and Kayla Reed (.382, 12 SBs).
Cleveland sophomore shortstop Mya Pacheco (.539, 8 HRs, 43 RBIs, 24 XBH) was one of the state’s most dynamic players. Her Storm teammate, sophomore outfielder Mercedes Lovato (.481, .604 OBP, 48 hits, 37 runs) joins her on the first team.
There were an abundance of power hitters on the Journal’s first team in addition to King and Zapach.
They include Manzano senior DH Mariana Narvaiz (.671, 14 HRs, 51 RBIs); Volcano Vista junior catcher Jayci Johnson (.467, 10 HRs, 35 RBIs) and Albuquerque Academy junior Sarah Post (.639, 12 HRs, 12 doubles, 55 hits, 49 RBIs, 1.361 slugging %), who is the first-team utility player.
Atrisco Heritage junior second baseman Erikha Ibarra (.580 and 34 runs from the leadoff spot) and Manzano senior third baseman Olivia Costales (.508, .620 OBP, 5 HRs, 31 RBIs) round out the first team.