It didn’t take long for the District 3-5A race to heat up.
The Los Lunas High School baseball team will be playing two of its biggest games of the season Thursday when it hosts the Las Cruces Mayfield Trojans for a doubleheader beginning at noon.
After pounding Las Cruces High on Saturday — outscoring the Bulldawgs 30-3 — the Tigers have leapt into the lead of the district race at 2-0. Mayfield, which figures to be in the chase along with Alamogordo, last year’s district champ, split one-run decisions in a doubleheader with Alamo on Saturday and stands at 1-1.
“They’ve got six returning starters, and last year they were a good hitting ballclub,” Los Lunas head coach Steve Contreras said of the Trojans. “We know they’re going to come here ready to go.”
Mayfield comes to Los Lunas with an overall record of 7-3, including a decisive doubleheader sweep of La Cueva High. By comparison, Los Lunas lost to La Cueva, 15-8, earlier this month.
But that was before the Tigers got on a roll. After losing three of its first four games, Los Lunas has won five of its last six games to improve to 7-4 and is playing its best ball of the year right now.
“We expected to have a solid hitting ballclub, and we started out kind of slow. But we’re kind of picking it up a bit,” Contreras said. “These last four or five games, we’ve been hitting the ball pretty well.”
In fact, Los Lunas has scored 10 runs or more in each of its last four games.
“We’re putting the ball in play with a little more consistency. We’re trying to avoid the strikeout, put the ball in play and make the defense work to get us out,” Contreras said.
It worked against Las Cruces High on Saturday. The Tigers pounded out 27 hits in 11 innings and took advantage of eight Bulldawg errors.
It worked against Belen last week when Eagle errors prolonged the fifth inning and the Tigers posted 13 runs en route to a 17-0 win.
Meanwhile, the Tigers are playing solid defense. They’ve made just one error in their last three games.
Another factor is that the Tigers are prepared for the district battles, having fought through the war last year to secure second place and their first state tournament appearance in 17 years.
Like Mayfield, Los Lunas returns six starters to their lineup, led by seniors Carlos Castillo and Josh Hernandez.
Both are doing it with their bats and their right arms. Castillo, who is 4-0 this season as a pitcher, and Hernandez, who is 3-1, are certain to pitch some innings, though the coach was unsure who his starters will be.
The other veterans on the club — first baseman James Alarcon, outfielder/catcher Travis Ferrel, second baseman J.D. Garcia, and outfielders/pitchers Brian Holmes and Christian Rael — have benefited from the experience of last year, Contreras said. And young players, like sophomores Matt Baca (third base) and Larry Sutherland (outfield/pitcher), are contributing in their roles on the team.
“We’ve got good leadership in Josh and Carlos, and the other guys are following,” Contreras said. “It always seems to be different guys in different situations — it’s been a complete team effort — and that will be the difference if we are to make a run in district.”