Scorpions and Panthers baseball teams prepare for season openers

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The high school baseball season is right around the corner, and for both Piedra Vista and Farmington High School, the goal to catch La Cueva remains of paramount importance.

The Scorpions and Panthers, both representing District 2-5A, spent much of last season chasing district rival La Cueva, a team that has won four state championships since 2017, both in Class 5A and 6A.

La Cueva has won 43 games and lost only 10 since the 2019 season and have won 11 state titles. They are considered one of the top programs in the state coming into this season according to MaxPreps, which listed the Bears as the 58th best high school baseball team in America.

The Farmington High School baseball team will be coached this season by Kary King, who took over the program last summer replacing Danny Secrest, who coached the team for three seasons and achieved a 31-21 record in that time.

Farmington possesses one of the strongest baseball programs in the state of New Mexico, having captured 14 state titles. The Scorpions last won the Class 5A state title in 2018 under head coach Sean Trotter, beating Goddard in the championship game by a final of 5-3.

Last season, Farmington finished with a record of 12-8, with a district mark of 6-4, which was good for third place in the standings behind Sandia and La Cueva.

The Bears beat Hobbs for the Class 5A state title last season, winning the championship game by a final of 11-2.

"We know we have a lot of work to do to compete with La Cueva," King said while holding a practice last weekend at Ricketts Park. "We've got a senior-heavy team and I hope we can put some pressure on La Cueva."

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Though King admitted that he won't be able to name a full roster nor starting lineup for the Scorpions until after their scrimmage this weekend at Cleveland High School, several returning players will have a big impact.

Among the returning starters for the Scorpions will be senior Zach Raichel, who's expected to be a force for their starting pitching rotation.

Raichel, who recently signed his letter of intent to continue his collegiate baseball career at Wayland Baptist College in Plainview, Texas, won three games for the Scorpions during an abbreviated campaign last spring.

"(Raichel) is a good competitor," King said. "He's not going to blow you away with his stuff, but he competes. He's got three good pitches that he can throw for strikes and he's scrappy offensively as well."

Farmington's Alec Chang hits a single against Durango on Tuesday, June 1, 2021, at Worley Field in Farmington.

The Farmington Scorpions baseball team will open the season at noon on Saturday, Feb. 26, at Ricketts Park when they face Miyamura in a doubleheader. For a look at their 2022 schedule, check out their official MaxPreps webpage.

The Piedra Vista Panthers, also coming off a winning season last year, will be aiming for a run at a state title. The Panthers went 11-9 last season with a 6-4 record in the district.

Piedra Vista's Kyler Aranda darts toward home plate and scores a run against Miyamura on Tuesday, May 4, 2021, at Farmington Sports Complex.

Returning for his fourth season as Piedra Vista head coach will be Jeff Kiraly, who has won 38 games against 19 losses since since 2019. Prior to that, the Panthers were coached by Mike McGaha, who led Piedra Vista to the Class 6A state championship game in 2018, which they lost to La Cueva by a final of 14-3.

Kiraly will be welcoming back a pair of senior starters to the Panthers roster, including Jacob Kuhn, who figures to be a factor on the mound and at second base, as well as Aidan Etsitty, who will bat in the middle of the lineup.

"We've got a young team," Kiraly said. "It's been a long haul to get the program back to where it was prior to everything getting shut down."

With opening day approaching soon, Kiraly appears to be ready for the challenges which will come with district play later this season.

"I think our district is the best in the state by far," Kiraly said. "La Cueva's always had a very strong program, and then Sandia, Eldorado and Farmington are always going to be tough outs."  

The Panthers will be on the road when their season starts on Thursday, Feb. 24 in tournament action against Hobbs. They're also scheduled to play Roswell and Los Lunas in that opening weekend competition. For a complete look at their upcoming schedule, check out their official MaxPreps page.

Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680.