Now they know how it’s done.
Now the Los Lunas High School baseball team knows what it takes to get to the state playoffs.
Last year, the Tigers made it as far as the quarterfinals of the state playoffs for the first time in 17 years.
But now, the Tigers are seeking to gain knowledge at an even higher plane.
“We’re trying to build off the momentum from last year,” said head coach Steve Contreras, now in his third season managing the Tigers. “There was success, and a lot of these boys were on that team, so we feel that we can build off that experience and go a little bit further.”
Last year, Los Lunas finished 14-8, 8-4 in district play, and earned a berth in a state regional playoffs in Las Vegas, NM by finishing as District 3-5A runner-up. But they bowed out early, losing to La Cueva, 10-4.
“We should make it as far as we did last year, and hopefully we’ll go farther,” said senior Josh Hernandez. “We should go further with the team we’ve got — as long as we play like we know how.”
The know-how is being passed down to the underclassman by a senior class of five, all of whom were starters last year.
Hernandez and Carlos Castillo serve as the Tigers best battery and are the team leaders.
Last year, Hernandez led the team in strikeouts with 44 in 35 innings while posting a 0.40 ERA and 4-1 record. Rio Rancho coach Ron Murphy was quoted as saying Hernandez is the best pitcher in the state this year.
He is also one of the state’s best batters. Last year, Hernandez, who has already signed on to play at El Paso Community College next year, led the state, hitting at a .542 clip.
“He’s obviously a premier player — a lot of people know about him,” Contreras said. “He just loves playing the game. We’re looking for another big year from him.
“He’s the guy that all the other guys look up to,” Contreras continued. “Carlos is in that same mold. They’re both very talented. They’re both baseball smart — they know a lot about the game — and they’re both leaders. They lead by example with their hard work.”
“We try to help the young guys that are coming up because we’ve been there, so we know,” said Castillo, an All-District backstop a year ago who led the team with five home runs and 16 RBIs while hitting .391.
Castillo also sheds the catcher’s gear and toes the slab for the Tigers. Last year he posted a 1-1 record and 0.64 ERA in 22 innings pitched.
Other returning seniors are first baseman James Alarcon, outfielder Travis Ferrel, who will also catch when Castillo is pitching, and J.D. Garcia, who is shifting from third base to second.
“They all work hard,” Contreras said of his seniors. “They’re a good group of kids.”
Also returning from last year’s team are junior outfielders/pitchers Brian Holmes and Christian Rael.
Junior classmen up from the junior varsity are outfielder Jeremy Dear and Nathan Romero, who will see time at shortstop and third base.
Sophomores replace three of the five graduated seniors off last year’s team. Pitcher/outfielder Larry Sutherland was a late season callup a year ago, Matthew Baca is stepping in as starter at third base, and Xavier Alverado will fill an infield utility role.
The Tigers got their season started Tuesday at Cibola (no score was available at News-Bulletin press time). They play their home opener at 3:30 p.m. Thursday against Del Norte, a team that has made the state semifinals two years in a row.
Los Lunas will host Rio Grande at 10 a.m. Saturday then go to La Cueva next Tuesday to play the Bears.
“We think we have a pretty stiff test in the first four games,” Contreras said. “But we like the stiff competition because it gets us ready for the district, and it’s a really strong district.”
With hard work and know-how, the Tigers just might be able to win the district, host a home game in the regional playoffs and reach the higher plane of the state semifinals.
And then, who knows? “Anything can happen in the state playoffs,” Contreras said.