Coach: Andy Williams (2nd year)
Last season: 17-10; lost to St. Pius in 5A semifinals
Key players: Colby Brown, sr., ss; Cal Clatanoff, sr., LHP/CF; Zeke Long, jr., 1B/RHP; Reed Cunningham, sr., utility; Joe Sava, jr., C/P.
Outlook: The Chargers return largely intact, led by Brown, the team’s overall best player. With Sava, Brown and Clatanoff, Academy will have three good options on the bump. Aside from the veterans, there are some newcomers with no varsity experience, and how they mix with the older players will be important. The Chargers should be fine offensively; Brown is moving from the middle of the order to bat leadoff.
ALBUQUERQUE HIGH BULLDOGS
Coach: Robert Padilla (2nd year)
Last season: 6-18
Key players: Pablo Herrera, soph., SS; Alex Rodriguez, sr., RHP/3B; Phillip Carrillo, jr., 3B/RHP; Sam Martinez, jr., 1B/DH; Louis Adams, sr., RHP.
Outlook: If the Bulldogs have improved on defense and with their pitching as much as Padilla believes, he hopes AHS can creep into the playoff picture this season. Herrera is a returning first-team all-district performer, and Rodriguez is probably the Bulldogs’ most clutch bat at the plate.
ATRISCO HERITAGE ACADEMY JAGUARS
Coach: Chris Trujillo (1st year)
Last season: 18-9; lost in 5A quarterfinals to La Cueva
Key players: Miguel Vasquez, sr., CF; Jose Escobedo, sr., P/3B; Angel Quiroz, sr., C; Enrique Perez, sr., RHP/2B; Luis Medrano, sr., SS/P.
Outlook: The Jags have two four-year varsity veterans in Vasquez and Escobedo, who will have to lead a team with quite a few new faces in the starting lineup. Atrisco likes its pitching, but this team lost almost all its best bats to graduation.
Coach: Steve Contreras (7th year)
Last season: 11-14, lost to Goddard in first round of 4A state tournament
Key players: Kenny Vialpando, sr., P/C; Andrew Castillo, sr. P/CF; Nick Aragon, jr., P/RF; Austin Baca, sr., SS; Gabriel Lucero, sr., P/3B.
Outlook: Belen returns eight starters to a team that lost in the first round of state last year. The team is solid offensively and defensively, but pitching is a concern.
Coach: Richard Sisneros (1st year)
Last season: 9-19; lost in first round of 4A state tournament to Piedra Vista
Key players: Adam Chavez, sr., 1B/RHP; Josh Urban, sr., SS/RHP; Daniel Jaramillo, soph., utility; Austin Darnell, soph., 2B; Ralf Olguin, jr., 3B/C.
Outlook: The Spartans hope to get it done with defense, speed and pitching. They have some experienced pitching with Urban, Chavez and Jaramillo, and they’ll need that trio to be solid as Bernalillo chases Los Alamos in District 2-4A. Sisneros was Bernalillo’s head JV coach last season.
Coach: Ramon Gonzales (5th year)
Last season: 12-14; lost to Las Cruces in 5A first round
Key players: Hunter Sedillo, jr., SS/C; Bryan Dow, sr., utility; Ryan Trujillo, sr., CF/P; Mikey Seiderman, soph., P/OF; Andres Gallegos, jr., OF/P.
Outlook: This is a very young group that will need a handul of sophomores to contribute, Gonzales said. With only three players that have varsity experience, the Cougars are working uphill, especially in their district. Sedillo is perhaps the key to this season. He’ll bat leadoff and Gonzales wants him “to steer us in the right direction.” Pitching depth is not an issue, but it’s not overpowering, so Cibola must throw strikes.
Coach: Shane Shallenberger (5th year)
Last season: 12-16; lost to La Cueva in 5A first round
Key players: Kyle Anderson, sr., OF; Jorge Guzman, sr., 3B; Riley Peterson, soph., C; Royce Cleveland, sr., RHP/OF; Justice Jackson, soph., 1B; Neil Evans, jr., LHP/OF.
Outlook: The Storm graduated 12 seniors, and this 2014 group will be a solid mixture of youth and veterans, Shallenberger said. Cleveland has enough starting pitching returning, plus the defense and speed, to make it a competitive bunch. The staff ace might be junior Brandon Larson, and there is depth at that position. This team probably doesn’t have enough firepower to knock off Rio Rancho in District 1-5A, but the pieces are there to make another playoff run.
DEL NORTE KNIGHTS
Coach: Ben White (5th year)
Last Season: 7-17
Key players: Gabe Vigil, sr., CF; Dom Levy, jr., P/SS; Tyler Narvaez, sr., OF.
Outlook: The Knights’ biggest flaw will be a lack of experience as they must replace nine seniors, but the team is strong defensively and should improve as the season goes on. The win totals have gone up in each of White’s seasons but the Knights have yet to reach state under him. White says reaching double-digit wins and earning a berth at the state tourney are the goals.
EAST MOUNTAIN TIMBERWOLVES
Coach: David Naylor (10th year)
Last season: 23-5; lost in 2A quarterfinals to Loving
Key players: Landry Williamson, jr., P/IF/OF; Keenan Dorey, jr., C/P; Derrick Merkey, jr., P/SS; R.J. Butler, sr., P/1B; Kyle Lesperanze, so., 1B/3B.
Outlook: While East Mountain was unable to bring home a state title as the top seed last season, Naylor led his team to the championship in 2012. Despite losing seven players, East Mountain is still talented and very deep. Naylor expects his pitching staff, led by Butler, to be the best in 2A.
Coach: Jim Johns (27th year)
Last season: 13-15; lost to Volcano Vista in first round of state
Key players: Ambrose Romero, sr., C; Drew Anderson, sr., RHP/DH; Andrew Stubbs, jr., 1B/P; Tanner Roberts, jr., SS; Austin Treadwell, jr., P/OF.
Outlook: The Eagles have been a bit out of the loop in 5A of late, but they should be back in the mix this spring. Eldorado has gained some pitching depth, which is vital, and Johns likes how this team shapes up offensively and defensively. The Eagles are probably still a second choice to La Cueva in District 2-5A, but with those two programs, you never know.
Coach: Jesus Villareal (2nd year)
Last season: 6-18
Key players: Ryan Wicketts, sr., RHP/1B; Adam Cogburn, jr., C; Ethan Conley, jr., 2B/SS; Jared Butler, jr., CF; Oscar Ortiz, sr., SS/P.
Outlook: The Hornets only have two seniors who will contribute – Ortiz and Wicketts – so the onus is on Highland’s young talent to mature quickly in every phase. With that much inexperience, the Hive may face some tough matchups. But Villareal likes his pitching staff, led by Wicketts, who is back fully from Tommy John surgery two years ago.
HOPE CHRISTIAN HUSKIES
Coach: Sean Anthony (5th year)
Last season: 26-4; Class 3A state champion
Key player: Keenan Dodd, sr., SS; Joe Standley, so., LHP; John Jensen, sr., C; Kyle Howell, sr., 2B; Josh Ray, sr., CF.
Outlook: The defending state champs should be dangerous once again, having lost just one player from last year’s team. A strong pitching staff and solid defense should carry the Huskies, who have speed to burn and put plenty of pressure on the opposition on the basepaths. But being able to drive in those runners is a concern for Hope. As long as injuries don’t strike, expect Hope to again contend.
LA CUEVA BEARS
Coach: Gerard Pineda (5th year)
Last season: 21-7; lost in 5A semifinals to Sandia
Key players: Jeff Deimling, sr., SS; Alex Howard, sr., 2B/RHP; Connor Calvert, sr., LF/3B; Chad Smith, sr., RHP; Austin Bell, jr., CF/P.
Outlook: After Rio Rancho, this might be the most complete team in the metro area. Deimling and Howard are as good a middle infield pair as you’ll find in 5A; Deimling is in a new position this year after playing third base the last two years. He’s La Cueva’s best stick, too. Smith is among the top starting pitchers in 5A, and Howard could be a surprise on the hill, as well. It’s a team with a strong lineup, speed and pitching depth.
LOS LUNAS TIGERS
Coach: Pete Candelaria (2nd year)
Last season: 21-8; lost to Santa Teresa in 4A quarterfinals
Outlook: The Tigers have a senior-dominated roster as they look to duplicate the success of 2013, in which they were a top-five seed at state.
Coach: Jim Briggs (21st year)
Last season: 8-16
Key players: Benjamin Martinez, sr., SS/C/P; Derek Martinez, jr., 3B/P; Angel Gonzalez, sr., IF/P; James Youchison, sr. OF; Clarence Huddleston, jr., OF.
Outlook: With better overall pitching, the Monarchs are hoping to work their way into the playoff hunt this year. Briggs thinks Manzano is also improved on offense and defense. He has to get some of his young players some experience before district.
Coach: Denny Young (1st year)
Last season: 8-18
Key players: Andrew Lucero, sr., OF/DH; Skylar Pearson, jr., OF/P; Isaiah Garcia, sr.,m P/1B.
Outlook: Young takes over a program that must replace 10 players, so the Pintos are going to be young and inexperienced. Young will let his players loose on the basepaths in hopes of taking advantage of the team’s speed and to try to manufacture a few runs.
NATIVE AMERICAN COMMUNITY ACADEMY EAGLES
Coach: Burgess Navarro (1st year)
Last season: 1-9
Key players: Josh Wade, jr., SS/C/P; Clinton Marmon, fr., P/C; Emilio Tafoya, sr., OF.
Outlook: NACA will play independently this year and Navarro, a former All-State player in Oklahoma, is interested in finding out what kind of team he has. He says they are a young and inexperienced group but also hard-working.
RIO GRANDE RAVENS
Coach: Orlando Griego (19th year)
Last season: 18-9; lost to Oñate in first round of 5A state tournament
Key players: Logan Wolfel, sr., C; Othon de la Cruz, sr., SS/P; Mike Chavez, sr., 3B/P; Martin Gallegos, soph., LHP; Matthew Sanchez, soph., 1B/DH/RHP.
Outlook: The Ravens graduated nine seniors and most of their starters, but Rio Grande is loaded with young talent and in fact will start four sophomores and two freshmen. Griego firmly believes this team is just as equipped to contend in district as any he’s had. This team has very good starting pitching, which might have to carry a young offense, at least in the early stages.
RIO RANCHO RAMS
Coach: Ron Murphy (17th year)
Last season: 26-8; Class 5A state champion
Key players: Marcus Martinez, sr., SS; Eli Cappello, sr., RHP/2B; Grant Templin, sr., OF/3B; Vic Chavez, sr., RF; Wyatt Kelley, jr., 3B/RHP; Eddie Vasquez, jr., CF.
Outlook: With eight starters returning, the Rams, who beat Sandia in the 5A championship game last May, are very likely the strongest team on paper in the state this year. If there is one concern – and it’s slight – it’s pitching depth, an area where Rio Rancho is usually notoriously strong. Offensively, this team is stout, and there are no easy outs in a lineup that combines finesse and power – and incredible speed. Martinez and Cappello both are five-year starters, as they anchor the middle infield. Chavez is a force in the outfield. Chris Carr, a strong-armed sophomore, is the new catcher, taking over for Martinez, who had that job the last few seasons. Rio Rancho is already off to a 3-2 start after a tournament in El Paso. “I think we have a shot to make a run,” Murphy said.
Coach: John Gunther (3rd year)
Last season: 24-5; lost 5A final to Rio Rancho
Key players: Brandon Koonce, sr., CF; Brian Kellum, sr., 1B; Alex Glover, sr., P/OF; Christian Sanchez, jr., OF; Jonas Vigil, sr., 1B/OF.
Outlook: After being in the state championship game the last two years, the Matadors are in complete rebuild mode after graduating all their starters and over a dozen seniors. “We’re an unknown,” Gunther said. Koonce is likely to be the only name familiar to local prep baseball fans. This program is filled, however, with plenty of promising underclassmen.
SANDIA PREP SUNDEVILS
Coach: Paul Huitt (15th year)
Last season: 16-14; lost to Hope Christian in 3A semifinals
Key players: Dalton Turpen, sr., OF/P; Shawn Moore, sr., SS/P; Mikey Gangwish, jr., C; Joe Martinez, fr., OF/P; Marshall Grandjean, so., 2B/SS.
Outlook: The Sundevils return eight starters from last year’s team and have a deep pitching staff. This team has no real holes but must find a way to get past Hope Christian. After losing just two players from last year’s team, Huitt expects his team to be in the running for a state title.
ST. PIUS SARTANS
Coach: Marc Hilton (14th year)
Last season: 21-8; Class 4A state champion
Key players: Kyle Piersol, sr., RHP/SS; Tristin Rizek, sr., RHP/2B; Kent Keeling, sr., RHP/OF; Andrew Muhlberger, sr., 3B; Jared Lujan, sr., P/OF.
Outlook: Coming off a magical season, the Sartans should easily contend for another state title this year. This team has tremendous pitching, including Piersol, who has already committed to UNM. But the staff ace is likely Keeling. Piersol is probably St. Pius’ most dangerous bat as well, although he has been injury-plagued in his career with the Sartans. “These guys are mentally and physically ready to take on the challenge, and I’m very confident we can make another run,” Hilton said.
Coach: Carlos Carrasco (6th year)
Last season: 11-18, lost in first round of 4A state tournament to Santa Teresa
Key players: Anthony Gonzales, sr., SS/P; Tyler Klein, sr., P/SS; Carlos Ramirez, jr., 3B; Garret Garcia, jr., P/C; Jose Galaviz, jr., 2B/P.
Outlook: Valencia returns some big hitters, solid defenders and crafty pitchers from last year’s team, which lost in the first round of state. The Jaguars are young but experienced. The goal this year is to win District 6-4A.
Coach: Chad Kuhn (9th year)
Last season: 13-13; lost in 5A first round to Rio Rancho
Key players: Bo Coleman, sr., SS/RHP; C.J. Montoya, jr., C; Lyric Moya, sr., 2B/RHP; Eric Chavez, jr., MIF; Paul Tapia, jr., LF; Elias Roybal, jr., 3B.
Outlook: If the Vikings can overcome concerns about pitching depth – Coleman is outstanding, but Valley needs some help in that department – they should challenge Rio Grande for the District 5-5A title. Kuhn said this team is swinging the bats as well as any he’s coached in the North Valley, and the Vikes have speed, too. Coleman will bat leadoff, and much will be asked of him, just as it was in football. Team chemistry is a major asset for Valley.
VOLCANO VISTA HAWKS
Coach: Kevin Andersh (6th year)
Last season: 19-7; lost to Rio Rancho in 5A quarterfinals
Key players: Daniel Herrera, sr., C; Cody Trujillo, sr., RHP; Scott Schneider, sr., SS; Sean Maher, sr., RHP; Chris Padilla, jr., CF; Tanner West, soph., LHP.
Outlook: The Hawks were decimated by graduation, and they’re rebuilding this season after losing 10 seniors. Volcano Vista expects to have seven starters on opening day with no varsity experience, so run production figures to be an issue, at least for a while. On the plus side, the Hawks have plenty of reliable pitching, led by Trujillo (who is coming off October knee surgery) and big sophomore West, who has already given a verbal commitment to the Lobos. That pitching had better be sharp, because Andersh expects some low-scoring games.
WEST MESA MUSTANGS
Coach: Richard Cordova (5th year)
Last season: 11-13
Key players: Jordan Davila, sr., IF; Zack Schroer, jr., IF; Jacob Smith, jr., 3B; Luis Ledezma, soph., utility; Gabe Aguirre, sr., 1B.
Outlook: The Mustangs nearly made state last year, but this year’s group will be hard pressed to challenge for a postseason bid due to inexperience and a couple of top players who moved back to Mexico. West Mesa expects to start five sophomores. “If they can figure it out,” Cordova said, “I think we’ll be all right.”
– Compiled by James Yodice and Kevin Hendricks