Tigers look to repeat as District 6-4A champions


Without a single senior on the roster, Los Lunas looks like they will not miss a step in their quest to repeat as the District 6-4A champions.

News-Bulletin file photo: winding up to deliver a pitch last season for Los Lunas is ace D’Ana Gabaldon. Coming off last year’s deep run into the state playoffs, the Tigers are expected to be one of the top teams in the state this year. They open their season at the Linda Crabtree tournament hosted by Piedra Vista on March 2, facing Aztec at 3 p.m.

The goal for coach Paul Cieremans’ Tiger softball team is to make a deeper run into the state playoffs, coming off of a 2011 campaign that saw Los Lunas fall in the state semifinals to eventual champion Piedra Vista, 3-2. The Tigers then lost to Bloomfield, 4-2, in the elimination bracket.

Cieremans, now in his ninth year at the helm of the Tiger program, said, “We had a productive season. It was the first time we had a lot of success in the post-season. We got over the hump.”

The schedule starts off strong for the Tigers as the girls travel to the Piedra Vista tournament the first weekend of March. They face Aztec and Los Alamos in pool play.

The Tigers had a 23-7 record last season, with pitching ace D’Ana Gabaldon winning 21 games.

The junior and fourth-year starter, known as “D” by not only her teammates but opposing coaches and players as well, brings a tough-minded reputation to the mound that has earned the respect of everyone in the district.

Angela Duran will pitch when D is not on the hill, with Samantha Lucero as the third pitcher. Both Duran and Lucero have experience coming off last season.

Cieremans said, “It is pretty promising for this year. We only lost three girls so I get the majority of my girls back.”

The losses of last year’s three seniors are from the middle of the defense and take the top two hitters out of the Tigers’ lineup.

Jackie Candeleria, now at New Mexico State, will be missed at shortstop, at the plate, and on the basepaths.

Centerfielder Kaitlyn Gross is playing college ball at Luna Community College and catcher Taylor Vigil will be missed on the defensive side.

The Tigers suffered a major blow with the loss of Jerrica Chavez. The talented third baseman tore her rotator cuff in volleyball and had surgery in November. Cieremans estimates that she might be back by late April, possibly for district play.

About the only infield spot clearly defined going into the season is second base. Cienna Thompson returns to anchor the defense.

Mykayla Moody will probably play first base, with Angela Duran in the mix.

Alli Madrid and Camile LaPorte are vying for time at third base while the team tries to make it through the Chavez injury. Jacqueline Jiron and Samantha Lucero are in the mix at shortstop, with Lucero also able to backup the second base spot, too.

At the key centerfield position, the Tigers are set to replace Vigil with returning starter Nikki Hathoot, but will have to wait until basketball season is completed. Hathoot is the only returner on the roster who played a winter sports teams.

“Once Nikki comes in, we will be able to establish the outfield a little better,” said Cieremans, noting that Moody, Lucero, Duran and LaPorte are all able to fill the outfield spots if not playing in the infield.

Adding depth to the outfield spots will be varsity newcomers Carley Medina, Brittany Armijo and Amber Cooke.

Jacklynn Sanchez and Amanda Gonzales are battling it out for the catcher position.

“They are going to fight for that position, but they both look good, so I am excited,” said Cieremans of the backstop position.

Just as the pitching centers around Gabaldon, the hitting might as well.

Noting that he will not put in a designated hitter for his ace pitcher as is the regular practice in softball, Cieremans said, “She is so strong and really tearing the cover off the ball in practice. I am probably going to let her hit and (play) somewhere else. She is such a great all-around athlete.”

Cieremans expects the district to be much improved and welcomes the tough competition.

“Gallup is in the hunt also. They have a new coach, so we don’t know how they are going to be. Valencia will be a lot better, too,” said Cieremans.

“The better the competition is, the better the district is and the better prepared we can be for the state tournament. We are young, talented and hungry. That is a pretty good combination.”

-- Email the author at mstearns@news-bulletin.com.