Belen beats district champs, 4-2

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

Belen baseball coach Steve Contreras was pretty certain his Eagles were already locked into a berth in the Class 4A State Tournament that starts Friday.

News-Bulletin file photo: Belen’s Tim Vialpondo not only tossed a complete game, allowing five hits, but also hit a game-winning, 2-run homer in the bottom of the seventh to end it.

But just to be sure, Belen went out and knocked off District 6-4A champion Los Lunas, 4-2, in the regular-season finale last Friday to clinch a playoff spot.

“I’m sure it helped,” Contreras said of the victory. “I thought we had a chance to get in before that but it was definitely a win that helped us.”

The Eagles (11-12) closed out the season strong, winning four of the final five games to earn the 15-seed and trip to second-seeded Goddard for a best 2-of-3-game set in Roswell to determine who advances to next week’s round of eight in Albuquerque.

It took quite an individual effort from Tim Vialpondo, who not only tossed a complete game, allowing five hits, but also hit a game-winning 2-run homer in the bottom of the seventh to end it.

“He had a good day,” Contreras said.

Los Lunas coach Pete Candelaria thought the victory was a big one for the Tigers’ rivals, but probably didn’t hurt his own squad’s seeding.

“I know it helped Belen out a ton,” Candelaria said. “But I don’t know that it hurt us. We’re right where I thought we should be.”

The way it ended was a bit of a gut-wrencher, especially since Los Lunas had battled back from a 1-0 deficit to go ahead 2-1 in the top of sixth before Belen tied it with its half of that inning.

“It was very dramatic,” Candelaria said. “Belen played a really good game.”

And Los Lunas (19-7) didn’t do much to help itself, the coach said, stranding 14 runners.

“We couldn’t get that big clutch hit when we needed it in that game,” Candelaria said.

Now both squads are looking ahead to the state tournament, where the Tigers enter as the 5-seed and will host Artesia (9-16), a team they shellacked 13-0 in a March tournament in Farmington.

But the Tigers have lost two straight for the first time since the season’s first two games.

“I’m hoping it doesn’t affect us,” Candelaria said. “I’ve been telling them that there are three seasons; pre-district, district and now state. So we’re 0-0. I think they’re ready to perform.”

The Bulldogs are a young squad with just one senior. Trevor Eulenbach is the team’s top pitcher, but Los Lunas shelled him pretty well in the prior meeting.

“He’s their main guy and we did really well against him,” Candelaria said. “If we can get him bopped off the mound, they’re not as tough.”

The Eagles, meanwhile, face a tougher task against Goddard (22-4), but they are playing well now.

“(The Los Lunas game) gives us some confidence,” Contreras said. “Los Lunas had 19 wins and we were able to beat one of the better teams. I think we’re going into the playoffs with a lot of momentum.

“We have everything to gain and nothing to lose,” he added. “We can go into the game relaxed and play the underdog role.”

Goddard, however, enters with a nine-game winning streak and has lost only one game at home.

So for the young Eagles, a loss will be an experience from which to build.

“I think it’s a real big step for the program,” Contreras said. “We’ve only got two seniors so all the young guys will get a taste of what the playoffs are and it help us in the future. And if we play the way we’ve played at the end of the season, that will also help.”