Magdalena baseball team backs into state playoffs

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It’ll become official today. The Magdalena High School baseball team will clinch a spot in the Class 1A state playoffs.

T.S.Last/El Defensor Chieftain photo: Magdalena’s Dylan Julian prepares to deliver a pitch during a recent game. Steers first baseman Jonathan “Spike” D’Amore is in the background at right.

That’s because Gallup Catholic, a 1A powerhouse and the only school grouped with Magdalena in District 1-1A, is unable to field a team due to eligibility issues. The Panthers, who won the state title in 2010 and were runners-up last year, were supposed to play the Steers today but will instead forfeit both games of a doubleheader.

“It’s not the way we want to do it, but we’ll take it,” Magdalena head coach Manuel Martinez said of the Steers’ state playoff berth.

Who knows? The Steers might have earned their way in properly. A young and up-and-coming program has been playing some pretty good baseball lately.

“The kids are improving quite a bit,” Martinez said. “We’re starting to peak right at the right time. As long as kids show up every day and do what they have to do, we’ll have a chance (in the playoffs).”

Though the Steers entered the week with a 5-7 record, that’s a vast improvement over previous seasons. In Martinez’s first year as coach in 2010, the Steers won just one game. They won two games last season.

“Looking at the remainder of the schedule, and if we play like we have the last couple of games, I think we have a good chance to be a .500 team by the end of the season,” Martinez said.

The Steers are coming off monumental wins over Socorro. On April 5, Magdalena swept a doubleheader over the 3A school, beating the Warriors’ junior varsity team 11-1, then knocking off the varsity 14-5.

Dylan Julian shut down Socorro’s JV for the mercy rule victory in five innings in the opener. Dre Montoya then went all seven innings to record the victory against the SHS varsity.

“I don’t consider either one of them as the ace,” Martinez said of his two top pitchers. “As a team, we feel really confident when either one of those two are pitching.”

In the varsity game, Socorro jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, which might have shaken the Steers in other years.

“We kept our heads up and matched them with three runs in the top of the second,” Martinez said.

Magdalena took the lead for good in the third inning. John Rhodes drew a walk to lead off the frame. After Montoya popped out to the shortstop, Julian, Jacob Lawless and Jonathan D’Amore strung together singles. Wylin Melton added another and the Steers led 6-3.

“We were basically playing base-to-base baseball, getting people on and advancing them around,” the coach said.

Aided by Socorro errors, the Steers scored seven runs in the fourth to blow the game open.

Martinez said the Steers turned up the pressure, stealing four bases in the inning.

“We were able to utilize our speed and got some key hits,” he said.

A two-run double by Montoya was the biggest hit of the inning. The freshman was also big on the mound, giving up eight hits, but matching that with eight strikeouts.

Martinez said the doubleheader sweep over the “big” school down the hill did a lot for the program.

“Whether it’s their JV, or us beating their varsity, I think those wins will turn the season around for us. We gained a lot of confidence. We know we can beat solid teams,” he said.

The Steers still have a few more games to play before the state playoffs start with a quarterfinal game on May 2. They play a home doubleheader today against Native American Community Academy — a replacement for the canceled games against Gallup Catholic.

While the Steers have gotten markedly better this season, there’s still room for improvement.

“We’re taking in one game at a time, for now,” Martinez said.

 


-- Email the author at tslast@dchieftain.com.