Clovis senior Mark Replogle has thrived in the leadoff role for the Wildcats. CNJ photo by Eric Kluth.
By Rick White
Good baseball teams are as much a part of Carlsbad as its world-famous caverns.
This season is no different as the Caveman are off to a 13-0 start heading into District 4-5A play behind a strong pitching staff anchored by left-hander Brian Flores and a solid lineup.
As short as two years ago, mentioning Clovis in the same sentence with Carlsbad when sizing up state baseball playoff hopefuls would be looked at as an April Fools joke.
But times have changed.
After back-to-back state playoff appearances, the Wildcats are being mentioned as co-favorites in District 4-5A with the Cavemen and with good reason.
The Wildcats (11-1) return seven starters, including University of Arizona signee Jason Seefeld, who leads a potent hitting attack. Senior Robert Riggins has emerged as the ace of a solid pitching staff.
But if either of the favorites slip, Eldorado, Manzano and Hobbs all appear capable stepping up.
Inconsistency has plagued Manzano (7-5) and Eldorado (6-6), while Hobbs (8-6) is off to a solid start under first-year coach Tim Phillips.
“This is the toughest district in the state,” said 11th-year Manzano coach Jim Briggs, who considers Carlsbad and Clovis as co-favorites. “But I love playing in this district because it is so competitive, even though we haven’t been successful.”
Carlsbad has won the last two district titles.
With no easy outs in the lineup and a pitching staff that is more savvy than overpowering, Clovis coach Shane Shallenberger likes his team’s chances to win the school’s first district title after finishing runnerup the last two seasons. But Carlsbad is still the team to beat, he said.
“We’ve got to knock them off before we can start talking about being the district favorites,” Shallenberger said.
The third-year Clovis coach won’t have to wait long to find out who gains the early edge. The Wildcats host Carlsbad in a three-game series starting today at Bell Park.
“This will tells us what we have to do the rest of the way,” Shallenberger said. “The winner will emerge supposedly as the favorite.”
Flores, who is coming off back-to-back non-hitters, will likely see plenty of action this weekend.
“We’re not gearing up to beat Flores,” Shallenberger said. “We’re gearing up to beat Carlsbad. Flores is just an obstacle we have to overcome along the way.”
Veteran Eldorado coach Jim Johns said it’s impossible to overlook Carlsbad when it comes to picking a district favorite.
“It’ll be similar to the last couple of years when Carlsbad was at the top of the heap and everybody else was chasing them,” said Johns, who led Eldorado to three-straight state titles in 1999-2001. “They’ve got off to a good start, they have an ace in Brian Flores and they always have kids who can swing the bat.”
Johns said his team needs to be more consistent to contend for the district title.
“There’s times we’ve swung the bat really well against some pretty good pitchers,” Johns said. “Our biggest weakness is we’ve been inconsistent pitching and sometimes we don’t catch the ball.”
Briggs described his team as “Jekyll and Hyde.”
“We’ve been doing one of two things: We beat teams or we can beat ourselves,” Briggs said.
Johns and Shallenberger called the Monarchs scary.
“Jim’s bunch has been really up and down,” Johns said. “But they got some power and they’ve got a good pitcher in Adam Kramer.”
Briggs said Manzano has had so much trouble fielding the ball that he’s put the 6-foot-7 Krammer at shortstop.
“I think it’s going to be a really close race,” Shallenberger said. “I think any team in this district can beat any other team.”
Last year: 18-8, 9-3 (reached regionals)
Coach: Tom Forni, 20th year
Key players: Brian Flores, Sr., P; Nathan Meek, Sr., P/C
Last year: 17-10, 9-3 (reached regionals)
Coach: Shane Shallenberger, 3rd, 29-20
Key players: Jason Seefeld, Sr., SS/P; Richard Urban, Sr., C/SS.
Last year: 11-15, 3-9
Coach: Tim Phillips, 1st
Key players: Matt Segars, Sr., P/2B; Zac Jarrett, Sr., P/C.
Last year: 6-20, 2-10
Coach: Jim Briggs, 11th, 215-200
Key players: Adam Kramer, Sr., SS/P; Brian Cavazos-Galvez, Jr., 1B.
Last year: 14-12, 7-5
Coach: Jim Johns, 17th, 303-83-3
Key players: Kyle Weiland, Jr., P; Isaac King, Sr., OF.