Reloaded Bobcats have high hopes for 2016
Shiprock, Kirtland Central expect to build on last season's records
FARMINGTON — Just like the Bloomfield softball team, coach Frank Dehoyos' Bobcats baseball squad is gunning for its fourth consecutive district championship in 2016.
Bloomfield recently graduated eight varsity players, including Jacob Defeinbaugh, Tyler Barker and Chris Garcia. All eight former Bobcats were major contributors to last year's team, which made it all the way to the 4A state semifinals. But Dehoyos believes his team is reloaded and ready to go this season.
"We did lose a lot on the mound and a lot in the lineup, but the beauty of Bloomfield and the kids here is that they bought into working and figuring out what they have to do," DeHoyos said. "They know it's time to step up."
Bloomfield will have four returning starters this season in starting pitchers Chauncey White, Kenyon Lusk and Brendon Charley, as well as third baseman Orlando Frias. That core also contributed mightily to Bloomfield's stellar 22-8 overall mark in 2015.
Football and basketball standout Adriano Stevenson flashed some ability as a left-handed pitcher during summer practices last year and should be a big help if he can fully recover from a leg injury that cost him most of the basketball season. Luke Deifenbaugh is one of a few other players DeHoyos expects to fill the void left by his outgoing seniors.
"Luke's just a chip off the old block from his brother, Jacob. He'll take over behind the plate for us," DeHoyos said. "Saul Noriega and Humberto Miramontes are going to come back and play a big role. And Corbin Nelson's gonna help us on the bump."
Bloomfield lost its season opener on Saturday to Bernalillo by a final score of 3-1 on the road.
Shiprock has started its season with a 2-0 record after crushing Navajo Prep last week in a doubleheader. The final scores of those games were 19-0 and 5-0.
"I was pleasantly surprised with how well we played," Chieftains coach Alfred Baer said. "You don't know quite what to expect in your first couple games, so the effort we got was nice to see."
Last year, in Baer's second season as Chieftains skipper, Shiprock went 18-12 overall and 8-2 in District 1-4A. That followed up an impressive 20-6 mark in Baer's first year. He's turned Shiprock into a winning team overnight, and said he expects the growth to continue in 2016.
"We're closing the gap year by year. Two years ago, we dismantled this team when my staff took it over," Baer said. "The school is happy with how far we've come."
Five-year varsity player and ace starting pitcher Abraham Hobson has graduated, along with fellow pitcher Rakeem Tsosie, but those are the only players gone from Shiprock's 18-12 team last year.
Senior Julian Aspaas and sophomore Dylan Begay should anchor the Chieftains pitching staff this season.
"Julian's in his third year with me, he should be big for us," Baer said. "Dylan was a good pitcher for me last year. He's bigger and stronger, and I have all the faith that he can step up."
Baer and the Shiprock coaches are also looking to junior Chance Harvey and seniors Cameron Phillips and Arjay Miller to make strides on the mound.
Coach Baer said he believes the Chieftains have a chance at stopping the Bobcats from snagging a fourth straight district title if his players can cut down on their mistakes.
"Right now I'm comfortable in all three phases of the game," he said. "We can score runs and we can keep games close with our defensive. Bad errors hurt us in big spots last year. That's something I keep preaching, one ground ball here, one misplayed ball there, that can change your whole season."
Second-year Kirtland Central head coach Bryan Wardroup said he learned a lot from his rookie campaign, and thinks the Broncos are primed to take a step forward this season.
"I don't feel like I had the boys bought in last year," Wardroup said. "I hadn't convinced them that my system worked. I feel like that's completely changed so far this year."
The Broncos went 8-16 overall and 6-4 in the district last season, and they are off to a 1-2 start this year. Two of those losses were hard fought, and both came at the hands of Robertson on Saturday, which entered last year's state tournament as the No. 6 seed. The first game was scoreless heading into extra innings.
Without much power, Wardroup is deploying a small-ball style of baseball this season and emphasizing execution in every facet of the game.
"We don't have the kind of athletes that are going to hit 20 home runs a season or anything like that," Wardroup said. "So we have to rely on executing on the base paths and defensively. We can't put ourselves in positions where we have to work from behind this year."
Pitcher and first baseman Randon Blindman is one of five seniors on KC's roster this season. He's expected to be a major contributor with his bat and his glove.
Utility man Zach Van Duren has been one of the Broncos' best leaders despite his junior standing. He'll see a lot of playing time at shortstop this season.
The Broncos host Grand County, Utah, on Thursday.
Jake Newby covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.