Los Lunas senior Aubrey Cherino hit two home runs in an 11 run sixth inning Tuesday to break open a close game and propel the Tigers to a 23-9 victory over Valencia on the Jaguars home field.
LLHS (3-2) scored twice in the first inning and built a 4-0 lead, but Valencia (1-4) exploded for seven runs in the fifth inning to take a 9-7 lead.
That would set the stage for the Tigers’ massive onslaught in the sixth inning to rally for the victory.
Alyssa Foster was a standout for VHS in the field and at the plate.
Los Lunas Tigers
The Los Lunas Tigers will need a young pitching staff to mature quickly to reach goal No. 1 — win a district title.
“Our starting pitching right now is three freshmen — Natalie Madrid, Brook Baca and Grace Baca,” said coach Patrick Ortiz, who took over the program at mid-season one year ago.
Before Tuesday’s game at Valencia, early results had been mixed. The Tigers gave up 29 runs in two losses but just five runs in two victories, including a shutout last week of Del Norte.
It’s not just pitchers that are lacking experience. Only three seniors return, with one junior and one sophomore.
Centerfielder Marleigh Manns, who has signed with New Mexico State, is one of those seniors.
“There are things that I can learn from them, and things they can learn from me,” said Manns of the newcomers. “They’ve got the hang of things. They know how to step up.”
Coach Ortiz will also be relying on second baseman Joshlynn Ortiz, his daughter, and Trishelle Anchondo-Lujan and Sarah Love.
“These girls have been great to have for leaders,” Ortiz said.
Can these Tigers jell in time for the District 5-5A schedule?
“We can definitely win district. I can see it,” Manns said. “Everybody has that grit in themselves.”
Ortiz points to the commitment from the players during the off-season.
“They are motivated. They want to go far.”
But realistically, it likely will come down to those who take the mound.
“Pitching is a big thing,” the coach said. “If we can keep playing solid defense, I think we can go really far.”
District 5-5A includes Los Lunas, Manzano, Capital, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Rio Grande.
Heading into Tuesday’s game against Los Lunas, the Valencia Jaguars had only scored four runs in their previous three games. Finding offense is the top concern for second-year coach Kayla Young.
“Our strengths are more in the pitching circle and on defense. We struggle with hitting,” said Young. “We have to keep working on it. They found ways to get on base but, as a team, finding a way to produce runs” hasn’t been easy.
VHS has 30 players out for the team, up from 22 last year. That allows the Jaguars to field two full squads.
With the numbers down last season, Young had to put players in unfamiliar positions on the field.
That includes Cambria Garley, who played shortstop as an eighth-grader.
“She stepped up into her role. We kind of threw her there,” Young said, but now, “She’s doing a good job.”
Young also points to first baseman Alyana Pacheco, who “is improving a lot.”
Pitching starts with Neveah Bracamonte, who is a utility player when she is not on the mound. Bracamonte says it has been a learning spring so far.
“We started out kind of rough but we’re slowly starting to build our trust with one another,” said Bracamonte.
“We’re going to have to compete at a high level,” Bracamonte says as District 5-4A approaches, and playing against the likes of Belen, St. Pius, Highland and Grants.
Young cites St. Pius and Belen as “our biggest competition” in the district.
“We’re definitely improving. There are a lot of young kids, so we have to improve. As the season goes on, we’ll get better and better.”
Coach Joe Duran and the Belen Eagles (4-5) have not shied away from tough competition this spring.
Seven of the nine games for the 4A school have come against 5A teams.
“It just makes us better; see what we need to work on and get us ready for district,” says Duran, now in his eighth season at BHS.
To that end, after playing in a tournament in Las Cruces last weekend, the Eagles will head south again Saturday to face Las Cruces High School.
Lorissa Scott, a sophomore, is once again Belen’s top pitcher. Scott has been on the varsity team since eighth grade and has earned all-district and all-state honors along the way.
“I think we’re doing really well this year,” Scott said. “If I strike someone out, everyone gets so excited.”
Scott is also the Eagles’ leadoff hitter, who plays second base or shortstop when she’s not on the mound.
Duran also relies on eighth-grader Honey Mirabel, the teams home run and RBI leader.
“Her power numbers are through the roof. She’s lights out,” according to Duran.
To win district and advance deeper into the state playoffs this year, Duran wants to shore up one deficiency.
“Cashing in when we have runners in scoring position — when we have ‘ducks on the pond,’ so to speak,” the coach said. “We’re not able to get that one hit to cash in.”
St. Pius is expected to again be Belen’s top rival in District 5-4A, which also features Valencia.
“With Pius, we always have a battle,” Scott explains. “I’m excited. I think we’re going to take district this year.”
Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.