Clovis High School senior Simon Salguero keeps his eye on the ball as it is tossed to him by teammate Nathan Dodge during a batting drill Thursday at Bell Park. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By John Eisel: CNJ sports writer
As Clovis battled La Cueva for the 5A state championship last year, all Jared Montoya could do was listen on the radio.
Montoya had always made baseball the priority over school, which left him ineligible for his junior year. He was merely a spectator as the Wildcats had a school-record 23 wins before falling 11-0 in the championship.
“I knew I could have been a small benefit to the team,” Montoya said. “It broke my heart.”
Coach Shane Shallenberger said Montoya has always been a hard worker out on the diamond, but now he’s putting that same effort to his schoolwork, and it’s paid off with above average grades.
Shallenberger has Montoya penciled in as a starting pitcher and third baseman for the Cats this season.
The Cats lost six starters from last year’s team, including all-state shortstop and University Arizona signee Jason Seefeld, outfield Mark Replogle, pitcher/catcher Richard Urban and pitcher Robert Riggins.
However, Shallenberger is confident the team can advance to a fourth straight state tournament, if not compete for a state title.
“We’re definitely reloading,” Shallenberger said.
Besides Sean Cruce, who will slide over from second to shortstop, other returning starters include junior outfielder Matt Ulibarri, senior pitcher and first baseman Luke Gray and senior outfielder John Props, although he’s still playing basketball.
“Experience is crucial,” Shallenberger said. “Those four players have played for a state championship. We have a lot of others who haven’t. They know what it takes to get to that level and what we’ve got to do get there.”
Having those four back makes Shallenberger believe defense will be a strength.
Offensively, he doesn’t expect a repeat of last year when they hit .400 as a team and averaged nearly 10 runs a game.
“Realistically, that’s tough to do,” Shallenberger said. “We’re going to learn how to play the short game a little bit. We’re going to have to move runners over. We’re going to have to hit behind runners. We’re going to have to do the little things right to score some runs.”
The Cats have four of their five pitching spots set, as Montoya, Gray and sophomore Cade Wheeler are set to start while Cruce will take over as closer for Seefeld.
Shallenberger said he’s still looking for a middle reliever who’ll likely come from up from junior varsity.
Even though these pitchers don’t have a lot of varsity experience, Shallenberger said they have the physical tools to be good pitchers.
“I’ve seen a lot of what those kids can do during the summer,” he said. “They’re going to be just fine.”
Clovis 2005 Schedule
Date Opponent Time
Feb. 24 vs. Fabens, Texas 5 p.m.
Feb. 25 TBD Noon or 5 p.m.
Feb. 26 TBD TBD
March 5 vs. Amarillo (2) 1/3 p.m.
March10-12 Rio Rancho Tourney TBD
March 18 vs. Levelland 5 p.m.
March 19 at Artesia (2) 1/3 p.m.
March 22 vs. Tascosa 4 p.m.
March 26 vs. Alamogordo 1/3 p.m.
April 8 at Carlsbad* (2) 4/6 p.m.
April 9 at Carlsbad* 10 a.m.
April 15 vs. Sandia* (2) 4/6 p.m.
April 16 vs. Sandia* 10 a.m.
April 29 at Cibola* 4 p.m.
April 30 at Cibola* (2) 10 a.m./Noon
May 6 vs. Hobbs* (2) 4 p.m./6 p.m.
May 7 vs. Hobbs* 10 a.m.
May 16-19 State TBD
* — Denotes District 4-5A game