It's now or never for the eight Lady Tiger seniors

........................................................................................................................................................................................

On one hand, the Los Lunas High softball team has become a program to be emulated, with its three consecutive district titles, six in seven years and seven consecutive state tournament appearances.

On the other hand, the Lady Tigers have not gotten as far at state as they would have liked, and this year's crop of eight seniors and other contributors wants to finally break through to the semifinals or the finals. Most of the members of the team's talented Class of 2013 have been on varsity since the eighth grade, and have played together even longer.

Their last chance at high school glory starts with a Tuesday, March 5, home game against Atrisco Heritage Academy. The Tigers hope to not only win another district crown, but also to win the Class 4A state title in May.

"We spend a lot of time on confidence," said LLHS coach Paul Cieremans, who's about to begin his 10th season at the helm. "But it all comes down to how bad the players want it."

The Tigers, who had no seniors at all last season, will use this year's veteran lineup to take advantage of a rare opportunity. Los Lunas is set to play five games in three days when they travel to the Tournament of Champions in Bullhead City, Ariz., March 7-9.

Leading the way will be seniors D'Ana Gabaldon, Mykayla Moody, Nikki Hathoot, Jacklynn Sanchez, Jerrica Chavez, Alli Madrid and Cienna Thompson. All but Thompson, who moved to the area a couple of years ago, have played together since their Enchantment Little League days.

Angela Duran, a junior, also played with the group through the years. She returns, along with juniors Amanda Gonzales, Carley Medina and Jacquie Jiron and sophomores Samantha Lucero, Amber Cooke and Vivian Lueras and freshman Deanna Zamora.

The Tigers want to be more consistent this year. The Tigers were outplayed and out-scouted at the state tournament last season, falling to seven-time state champ Piedra Vista and to Atrisco in the double-elimination tourney.

"From playing top competition at state, we've seen how a few mistakes can hurt," said Cieremans. "And how hard it is to get those runs back."

Gabaldon was the 6-4A player of the year and was one of four Tigers to make the Class 4A all-state first team. The hard-throwing righthander has pitched with the varsity for four seasons, include every pitch of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 Tiger seasons.

The senior threw 181 innings last year, striking out 172 while walking only 30, and had a 1.72 ERA. She threw six shutouts, including a playoff no-hitter against Santa Fe High.

The only varsity returner who will join the team late, after basketball season ends, will be Hathoot. A four-year starter, Hathoot batted in the clean-up spot most of 2012, and she hit .432 with 34 RBI and 31 runs scored, and hit 12 doubles. She also made the 4A all-state first team.

Thompson is another vocal, speedy senior and all-state first-teamer who has been a multi-year starter. She hit .418 with two home runs, 27 RBI, three triples and 27 runs scored, and led the team in walks as a junior.

Moody is a team leader that has power at the plate and the long limbs and tenacity needed to play first base. The senior was the team leader in RBI with 39, to go with a .459 batting average, 11 doubles and 27 runs scored last season, earning a first-team all-state honor.

Sanchez batted .391 with 31 RBI and three home runs and 32 runs scored in 2012. The right fielder suffered a broken leg in a summer tournament, but appears to have recovered well.

Jiron was the team's regular shortstop. She made some dazzling plays, and used her speed to take extra bases. She scored 22 runs and had three triples.

Amanda Gonzales played catcher admirably as a sophomore last year, and had some clutch hits. She had 15 RBI.


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