Tigers have high expectations for 2013 season


To explain everything that went on, off and on the field, with the Los Lunas High baseball team in 2012, would likely take several thousand words.

The Tigers are preparing for the 2013 season, and the most important things now are that they have a new coach, Pete Candelaria, and a loaded senior class that has high expectations.

Class 4A Los Lunas, which opens the 2012 season with a 5 p.m. game at 5A Mayfield on Tuesday, Feb. 26, went 18-11 last season, placing third in District 6-4A and narrowly losing a three-game, first-round state playoff series at Albuquerque Academy. Only Mario Legarda and Cody Reynolds graduated, and about seven seniors are ready to try and take the Tigers even deeper into the playoffs.

Most of the team has already been working out together for some time, as the team only has standout Isaac Parra in wrestling, and no returning varsity players in basketball.

Candelaria coached two games on an interim basis last year when third-year coach Robert Riggins was relieved of duties following an incident involving an umpire. Junior varsity coach Daniel Harmon headed the team to finish out the season.

Riggins resigned, offering several criticisms of Los Lunas Schools, and eventually was hired to coach Pojoaque Valley. Candelaria was chosen by the district as the new coach over Harmon and other candidates.

"I'm happy with our schedule," said Candelaria, whose team's home opener is a 4 p.m. game against another 5A team, Oñate, on Thursday, Feb. 28. "We might take our lumps early in the season, but we'll be better prepared for district."

The team's two 2012 seniors were three-year starters who will be missed. The Tigers must replace Legarda's catcher skills and eight doubles and 41 RBI, along with Reynolds, who went 5-1 as a pitcher, anchored first base and batted a team-best .440. Another senior, Jake Lawrence, went 3-1 as a pitcher.

Parra, an accomplished football player and wrestler, will be one of the few joining the team late. As an infielder, pitcher, hitter and speedy baserunner, Parra is one of many valuable returners.

The senior batted .420 and had 31 RBI in 2012, and led the team in home runs (five), triples (five), runs scored (33) and slugging percentage .730. On the mound, Parra was the Tigers' No. 1 pitcher, and while his record was only 4-5, he had a 57-16 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

Parra will be the main third baseman and one of the main starting pitchers, said Candelaria.

Ruger Rodriguez made all-district as both a pitcher and a centerfielder in 2012. The senior drove in 18 runs last season. He and Parra have both signed letters of intent to play next year at New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell.

Senior John Rivera is a third-year starter in the middle infield. In 2012, the speedy Rivera scored 29 runs and led the team with 11 stolen bases, and played second base. He'll likely start at second or shortstop this year.

Another pitcher/infielder, right-handed senior Chris Wisneski, had a strong sophomore season, but decided to run track last spring. He'll do both sports this year, and will pitch and contend for one of the middle-infield spots. He could also play in the outfield.

Wisneski's college options are in both baseball and football, but he is still weighing his choices.

Preston Schollander is another senior and returning starter. He didn't receive any awards last season, but made some sharp plays in the outfield, and he could be playing either football or baseball at the college level.

Another senior, Tyler Mariano, didn't get to play much last year, but Candelaria likes his versatility. He called Mariano a utility player, who could play catcher, shortstop or second base.

Senior Greg Wortman has committed verbally to the University of New Mexico football program. He was one of the Tiger catchers the past two seasons, knocking in 13 runs and scoring 21 in 2012, but he is apparently not playing baseball this spring.

Darron Gallegos, one of the Tigers' few returning juniors, is coming off a solid football season. He scored 11 runs and was one of the Tigers' starting middle infielders in 2012, and will compete for a spot there this year.

Outfielders Nick Aragon, a senior, and junior Donald Cruz return, as do junior pitcher/infielders Chris Padilla, a good power hitter, and Charles Holt. Candelaria says Holt has developed major movement on his fastball.

Dakota Wood, a junior, is another first baseman.

Junior Nick Abeita is one of the team's biggest players, and will compete for a varsity spot, possibly at first base.

Candelaria, who is making his debut as a varsity head coach, knows setting limits is especially important with the LLHS baseball program.

"There are no positions guaranteed to anyone," said Candelaria. "Parents are a part of every program. But I'll be damned if I'm going to have anyone tell me, 'You're going to start my kid.'"

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