Lady Eagles try to rebuild — yet again


When the Belen High softball team takes the field for its Friday, March 1, season opener at Sandia Prep, there will likely be a lot of new varsity faces — again.

The Lady Eagles, who won a district title in 2008, have tried to rebuild for several years. Their fourth coach in less than three seasons, Raymond Valerio, will have a young lineup again, but at least he will have a few returners.

In fact, there are at least nine returners, although only two are seniors. The 3 p.m., March 1, game at Sandia Prep will be followed by a Tuesday, March 5, game at Los Alamos, and their home opener is March 7 against Highland.

"It took us a while to get to where we were working hard consistently," said Valerio, who coached the Los Lunas baseball varsity for one season, in 2003. "The good thing is that all the girls we have here now have bought in, and are listening. What I really care about is how we practice. If we're disciplined, the games will take care of themselves."

The Eagles didn't lose any players to graduation, and not many in 2011. Depth will be better, but some coaching stability wouldn't hurt.

Coach Eddie Candelaria was fired after only one season, 2011, and Roy Gonzales wasn't hired as his replacement until September.

Then, in the middle of last season, Gonzales was placed on administrative leave for reasons never disclosed, and he soon resigned. Assistant coach Amber Bertrand, a 2007 BHS graduate, took over the team for the rest of the season.

The Eagles finished with a 7-16 overall record. They went 3-7 in District 6-4A, finishing in fourth place.

The two seniors are Augusta Amaro and Virginia Gonzales. Amaro played catcher and shortstop last season, and Valerio thinks she might play third base this year.

Gonzales, an outfielder, made some sparkling plays in the field last season.

One of the key returning underclassmen is Snoie Vallejos. The junior was the only Eagle to make the 2012 All-District 6-4A first team.

Vallejos batted better than .500 last season and played a number of positions in the field, including the outfield and shortstop.

Sophomore pitcher Emma Gonzales returns. She is as throwing as hard as ever, and earned All-District 6-4A honorable-mention status in 2012.

Infielder Alex Baca was another honorable-mention All-6-4A honoree. She made some quick, sharp plays while playing third base.

Mariah Armijo was one of the team's main second basemen last season. She'll share that spot this season with second-year varsity player Tabitha Zamora.

Returning in the outfield, in addition to Virginia Gonzales, are Shalene Aragon and Taylor Jamison. Raeanne Espinoza also returns.

Arena Lewis, the freshman cross country star, is on the Eagle roster, and she may pitch.

Three regular starters from last year — first basemen/pitchers Sierra Aroz and Reyna Aguirre, along with shortstop Maria Montaño, are not out for the team this season.

Valerio said there are some regular varsity spots that haven't been completely solidified, but none of any potential returners are in basketball.

"I've coached baseball for 15 years," said the Taos native. "There are some differences, but really, it's just a faster game. You just have to learn the little things, like trying to hit the ball in the air with a runner on first base and less than two outs."

Valerio has an all-new staff that includes Jonathan Gandert, Leah Alexander, Josue Gallegos, former Eagle star Hailey Morgan longtime BHS multi-sport coach Emily Gurule.

The coach said the work ethic is the most critical element to winning.

"There will be no 'Cadilacking' (running slow)," said Valerio. "We need better fundamentals, and we can't get discouraged. But we also have to hustle."

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