By Dave Wagner
Shane Shallenberger concedes his Clovis High baseball team has its work cut out Saturday playing at top-ranked and unbeaten La Cueva in the regional round of the Class 5A baseball playoffs.
But, he added, it isn’t that much different than playing anyone else at this point.
“They’re definitely the team to beat,” Shallenberger said of the Bears, who bring a 26-0 mark into Saturday’s noon contest. “There’s nobody in the state with a comparable record.
“When you make the playoffs, though, anybody’s tough. It wouldn’t matter if we were playing anybody else; there are no slouches. It’d be a tough game no matter how you look at it.”
The Wildcats (17-9) have been playing well in their own right of late. They won eight of their final nine games in District 4-5A play to finish 9-3 and in a tie for the top spot with defending 5A champion Carlsbad.
Shallenberger said that, given that the Cats hadn’t made the playoffs since the early 1960s, the overall and district win totals are likely school records.
“They have a solid ballclub and they’re playing good baseball,” fifth-year La Cueva coach Stan McKeever said. “We know we have our work cut out for us. They’re certainly competitive.”
The game could be a contrast in styles. While the Cats have relied on their speed and the ability to manufacture runs, La Cueva has pounded out an incredible 74 home runs — nearly three per game — with four players in double figures.
McKeever, whose team has finished third in 5A the past two seasons after semifinal round losses to Carlsbad, has virtually everyone back from last year’s squad. He said this is just one of those years when the lineup has been potent from top to bottom.
“We have a talented bunch of kids,” he said. “Usually I try to play more like (Clovis), but it’s a unique team. We’ve gotten some leads on people and haven’t had to go to the short game that much.”
McKeever said there is some pressure in being undefeated, but not that much.
“I’ve felt all along that our kids were on a mission to win the state tournament,” he said. “We know every game will be tough, but I don’t think that’s any different than in any other year.”
The Cats have made major strides since an 0-4 spring break trip to Arizona in mid-March. They were competitive in losing two of three at Carlsbad at the start of district play, and have taken off since then.
“We should’ve won twice at Carlsbad; we should’ve beaten them the first game (a 13-10 loss),” senior right fielder Brett Thornsbury said. “But that gave us a big boost to be able to beat Carlsbad, especially at their place.”
That series was enough to give the Cavemen the tiebreaker over Clovis for the 4-5A title, thus forcing the Cats to travel this week.
“It would’ve been nice to play at home, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Thornsbury said. “We’ve gotten better since the Arizona trip, and it’s been a good season.”
La Cueva’s top three pitchers are a combined 17-0. The Bears will go with junior right-hander James Parr, who is 6-0 with a 1.71 earned run average, in Saturday’s game.
“He’s been our ace pitcher since he was a freshman,” McKeever said. “I think he’s about 21-1 over the last three years. He throws hard and spots his pitches well.”
The Cats will counter with senior right-hander Darren Davis, who is 5-3 and carried a 5-0 lead into the sixth inning in three of his four district starts. Junior Jason Seefeld has picked up five saves.
Seefeld tied the school single-season record with seven home runs, and his .439 batting average is second on the team behind senior second baseman Matt Cordova’s .461.