Spring forward: Girls prep softball preview

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When the 2013 softball season closed, the Los Lunas Tigers were the top of the heap in Valencia County, having finished second in District 6-4A before winning a dramatic first-round game at the state tournament before falling to eventual state runners-up Aztec in the double-elimination portion of the playoffs.

The Tigers advanced one step further than their crosstown rivals, the Valencia Jaguars, but the departure of seven seniors seems to have Los Lunas in a precarious position as the Jags and Belen look to improve in 2014.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: BELEN PITCHER Emma Gonzales, left, shown pitching against Atrisco Heritage this past Saturday, is one of six juniors on the Eagles squad this season and one of the team’s key players.

BELEN EAGLES
The Eagles are still a young team going into the 2014 campaign, said second-year coach Ray Valerio. BHS was forced to play a lot of players who had no varsity experience during the team’s 9-14 season in 2013.

But Valerio sees a payoff coming from that situation, particularly since the team has a whopping seven starters returning.

“The girls have been working very hard,” Valerio said. “But it’s going to come down to how they handle the pressure of playing the game.”

Senior infielders Alexis Maes and Mariah Armijo will be key to the Eagles’ hopes as will junior pitcher Socorro Austin and sophomore outfielder/shortstop Arena Lewis and freshman centerfielder Kira Mast.

“On offense, we’ll try to run a little more since we have more speed,” Valerio said. “We also have a couple of girls who can hit for power but we can also play small ball if we have to.”

LOS LUNAS TIGERS

The Tigers lost a lot of experience from last year’s state quarterfinal squad, which finished 19-8.

That knowledge and skill helped coach Paul Cieremans, now in his 11th season, build the program to its current strong state.

Seniors Angela Duran, the team’s pitcher and utility player, and catcher/outfielder Amanda Gonzales will be counted on to provide leadership this season.

Junior third baseman/pitcher Brittany Armijo and sophomore outfielder/pitcher Hannah Wood will also be key members of this year’s sqaud.

Senior shortstop Jacquiline Jiron was also a key cog, but an early season knee injury has her season looking doubtful, said Cieremans.

“We’re young and inexperienced,” he said of his team. “The battery has some experience and there’s some leadership coming from there that’ll hopefully lead us.

“We have the capability to do well but we lack the varsity experience and we’ll have to work on our chemistry.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: VALENCIA’S ERIN SHARPE, a junior, is an integral part of the Jaguars’ pitching staff as well as an infielder for VHS, which is looking to return to the state playoffs this season.

“We’ll be working on line-ups early, putting girls in different positions, to see what we have,” Cieremans said. “It’ll be interesting.”

VALENCIA JAGUARS

VHS coach Jeff Young enters his fourth year with a solid core of players and something the team has never had before — depth.

“We haven’t been very deep until this year,” said Young. “Now we’re growing the program to the point where we have depth.”

Coming off a very successful 18-10 season in 2013 that saw the Jags make the first ropund of last season’s state tournament, Young said he’s counting on a trio of upperclassmen to lead his team — junior pitcher/third baseman Erin Sharpe, junior infielder Kayla Young and senior outfielder/pitcher Miranda Connelly.

Sophomores Amber Baca (pitcher and utility) and shortstop Adriana Carbajal could also contribute.

With the departures of key players for Los Lunas and 2013 league champs Gallup, some are pointing to Valencia as contenders, but Young isn’t so sure.

“I’d like to think so, but you never know,” Young said of the predictions. “We’ve still got to play the games. The kids are good, they worked hard, but they haven’t done anything yet. Everyone else thinks we’re going to be pretty good.

“But I don’t want to say anything yet.”