Panthers reload for 2016 baseball season

Karl Schneider
Piedra Vista's Logan Klunder rounds third base during a game on April 18, 2015, against Aztec at Ricketts Park in Farmington.

FARMINGTON – Last season, the Piedra Vista baseball team didn’t lose a to a New Mexico program until the state tournament when No. 8 Artesia upset the top-seeded Panthers 9-6 in the 5A quarterfinals.

The loss to Artesia also brought another first for PV, making it the first season in head coach Mike McGaha’s tenure, which began in 2010, that the Panthers did not reach the title game.

Rather than putting pressure on itself to return to the pinnacle, McGaha said this team reminds him of his 2014 squad he nicknamed the Rat Pack after it ground through the season to win the title.

“I don’t feel like the pressure of duplication is there,” McGaha said. “I feel like we think we underachieved last year at the state tournament, and I definitely think this group of kids is hungry, but I think their M.O. is a little more similar to the 2014 Rat Pack.”

The Panthers lost seven seniors to graduation, and all seven went on to sign letters of intent to play at the college level. With the big loss in production and leadership, the Panthers will look to three players with significant varsity experience — seniors Logan Klunder and Kyle Dewees, and junior Andrew Caliendo — to take charge.

McGaha said the PV infield is, for the most part, solidified, while he’s still trying to find someone to lock down the third spot in the outfield to join juniors Tyler Mead and Sam Moody, who is also one of the team’s top pitchers.

On the mound, PV is looking for seniors Fabian Magallanes and Orlan Warren to join Moody in the starting rotation, with senior Jeremy Griffith serving as the primary relief pitcher and closer.

Farmington was the victim of an up-and-down season in 2015 when the Scorps failed to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in more than a decade. Now, FHS is trying to return to being one of the top programs in the state.

Despite losing eight players to graduation, Farmington returns multiple players with considerable varsity experience.

“We have six seniors on the roster, and when you have a guy like Bryce Washburn, who’s a three-year starter for us, and David Saldivar in the middle, those two are fun to watch and they’re pretty solid,” Farmington head coach Sean Trotter said.

Also back for the Scorps will be senior pitcher Dominic Martinez.

Farmington's Dominic Martinez delivers a pitch on May 2, 2015, at Ricketts Park in Farmington.

Martinez will be Farmington’s top option on the mound this year, and Trotter said he likes what he has seen from the senior and the rest of the pitching staff.

“He’s not going to go out and overpower people, but if he can pitch to both sides of the plate, he’s pretty tough,” Trotter said. “It’s a good group of seniors who can all go out and pitch. There’s nothing exciting on the mound, but they can all contribute and throw strikes. Defensively, if we play, we should be pretty solid.”

Trotter said to start the season, the Scorps will rely on their pitching and defense to win games, while being more aggressive and creative on the bases to produce runs.

Aztec enters the season under the direction of first-year head coach Wes Laplatt after Brett Alexander resigned during the offseason. Laplatt takes over a team that is coming off a state tournament appearance and that will return the bulk of its roster after losing five players to graduation.

Laplatt said he thinks the team has strong leaders this year with the senior duo of shortstop Jake Taylor and third baseman Bradley Maestas, who have been three-year starters for Aztec, leading the way.

Aztec's Jake Taylor, left, and Zach Taylor try to turn a play against Piedra Vista's baserunner Andrew Caliendo on April 18, 2015, at Ricketts Park in Farmington.

After the first few weeks of preparation for the season, Laplatt said the team has had its share of ups and downs.

“We’ve played really well and really poorly,” he said. “We have a lot of potential and, hopefully, we can catch up to that potential.”

Freshman Zach Taylor will return to his position at second base after starting for the Tigers as an eighth-grader. Cody Smith, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound sophomore, will be back after missing last season due to injury to provide the Tigers with pitching depth behind junior Kyler Duggins.

Entering the season, Laplatt said he wants to see the Tigers play a more balanced game this season.

“We’re just going to have to play well in all three facets of the game to win games,” Laplatt said. “I don’t think we have a strength in one, so we’ll have to play well in all of them. We have to hit well, play good defense and pitch well. We want to be more balanced.”

Aztec will play Hope Christian today at Valencia’s tournament in Los Lunas.

PV will be in action on Saturday when the Panthers play a doubleheader against Valley in Albuquerque.

Farmington will be off until March 10, when it plays Moriarty in the first round of the Scorpion Invitational at Ricketts Park.

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.