Eagles hope to return to the playoffs


For Belen baseball coach Steve Contreras, last season was bittersweet. Not only did the Eagles lose their perennial all-star, Hunter Blaylock, but Belen also failed to make the playoffs, finishing fourth in District 6-4A with a 4-6 record and 9-15 overall.

"We are using last year for motivation, because we don't want that to happen again," said Contreras, who has some returning starters, but will be developing a lot of young players, too.

Belen's early season schedule is difficult, but that is the way Contreras likes it to prepare the team for the tough district campaign.

The Eagles visit Bernalillo for a doubleheader on Friday, March 1, and then spend the next two weekends at the Artesia tournament and the Goddard tourney.

"Both tournaments have very strong 4A and 5A teams," said Contreras. "It will be good either way. It will give us a peak at where we need to go and how good we can be."

The outfield is pretty much set for the Eagles, while the pitching staff will be retooling around junior right-hander Tim Vialpando.

Vialpando posted a 4-6 mark in 2012, but the other two pitchers in the rotation, Blaylock and Lucas Gonzales, graduated.

The staff will be bolstered by Gabe Lucero, Andrew Lucero, Chris Peralta and Austin Baca.

Nick Aragon and C.J. Newey are two left-handers available and could figure in to the pitching mix, either in relief or possibly as starters.

The experience returning in the outfield will help both the top of the batting line-up and defense.

Newey, who played left field, led off most of last year and provides speed and an ability to get on base.

Center field is in good hands with Andrew Castillo who can hit for power and provides some speed to the batting order.

Aragon is also very fast on the basepaths and could lead off the batting order. He is most likely the Eagles' right fielder.

Chris Peralta is solid behind the plate and got a lot of experience at the position last year.

"He played there last year as a freshman," said Contreras. "Garrett O'Conner (a junior) could see some time there, too."

Austin Baca will return at shortstop for the Eagles and the early indication is that Wyatt Matheson will hold down second base. John Briscoe is also in that middle-infielder mix.

Gabe Lucero will be the regular third baseman, with Vialpando filling in when Lucero takes the mound.

Vialpando is a solid defensive first-baseman and Marcus gallegos is capable when Vialpando is pitching or over at third.

Nick Kurtz, Brandon Ammons and John Michael Hicks all expected to come out after basketball season to give the Belen roster depth.

The Eagles do not open up at home until Mar. 26 with a game against Moriarty. They will not host their county rivals at home until the second run through the district schedule.

Valencia is set to visit on April 23 and Los Lunas is the final regular season game on May 3.

Noting that both Valencia and Miyamura had great success last year, Contreras believes the district favorite is just a short 13 miles up I-25.

"Los Lunas will be the favorite," Contreras said. "They have a lot of returners back from last year. We hope that with our young players, we can be right in that mix with those teams."

The Eagles have some young players that will contend for playing time. Freshman Adon Contreras and sophomores Anthony Benavidez and Enriquez Sanchez are competing for spots on the roster.

The Eagles expect to have Nick Kurtz, John Michael Hicks and Brandon Ammons when basketball season concludes. The team might see some other players out after winter sports are done.

"We are excited and we have to just keep getting better every day," said Contreras. "We have been practicing very hard. If we can solidify our pitching, then we will be able to come together quickly."

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