Ordinarily, a high school baseball team that returns a load of junior and senior talent – particularly after a season in which it got to the Class 3A State championship – would be a sure bet to at least get back to the title game.
But for the Capitan Tigers, that’s not so cut and dried.
Class 3A has a strange confluence of teams that are returning a huge corps of talented upperclassmen, including State champion Texico, which beat Capitan 20-3 in the title game last season.
Tiger coach James Weems said other teams like Estancia – which Capitan beat in the State semifinals – and Santa Rosa – which the Tigers needed extra innings to defeat in the quarterfinals – also have a number of key players back for 2018.
And that’s not counting District 4-3A teams like Dexter and Eunice, in a district in which the Tigers were 8-4.
“There are a lot of good teams out there,” Weems said. “Eunice only lost two or three from last year, so it might be tough just getting out of district. There’s no guarantees about how we’ll do.”
But even with the strong competition, Weems said he’s confident in how his teams looks, just based on the players he’s already got out for practice.
“We’ve got three varsity players out already and a lot of good younger kids on JV, but we’re still waiting on basketball to end,” Weems said. “It’s looking good based on last year, but we lost a lot as far as pitchers go.”
Among the seniors Capitan lost is Brontson Leach, who pitched his team to a complete-game victory over Estancia in the semifinals. There’s plenty of players that can pitch, the question is how well they can do.
Among those pitchers is John Rogers, who’s been on the mend for some time since suffering both broken wrists as an eighth grader. He started last year’s State championship game, but Weems was limited when it came to who he could pitch when things went south.
Price Bowen – now a senior – had pitched his maximum under NMAA rules and was unavailable, as was junior Brendan Usery, who had a broken wrist on his throwing hand.
Both of them will be a major part of the rotation this season.
“Price is kind of an automatic for us to play and pitch,” Weems said. “We never leave him out.”
One addition that could have made a difference on the mound is junior Mason Taylor, who transferred in from Ruidoso. But Taylor’s shoulder is a concern, meaning he might not be able to pitch this season.
But he’ll still be a mainstay, at least at the plate.
“We’re still waiting on the MRI, but he can still play and hit well,” Weems said. “We’ll find a spot for him, maybe pinch hit or DH.”
Others that played on last season’s team and are expected to make an impact are seniors Caleb Hightower, Julian Buechter and Clay Bob Stearns, as well as junior Adam Dunn.
The season starts March 13 with an away game against New Mexico Military Institute before appearances in the Hal Bogle and NMMI Sertoma Classic.
That’s not long after the end of the basketball season – State ends March 10 – and the court is where most of these players are right now.
“It will be rough, but we’ll have to go with what we’ve got and see what comes,” Weems said. “We have talent and we will have to depend on that.”