Monday, March 26, 2012

Spring is here ... and so are its sports; NMJC off to fast conference start

Clayton Jones/News-Sun
NMJC's Damion Lovato bats Saturday against Odessa College.
  Sorry it's been awhile since I've updated the ole' blog, just been taking a bit of a break after a hectic couple of weeks of writing, photo taking and traveling to cover all these events.
  But I'm back and spring is here - one of my favorite times of the year. The weather has warmed up (and hopefully will stay nice for awhile) and baseball, softball, track and field, golf and tennis are all in full swing.
  What I really took away from my first week in spring sports coverage mode (like I said, the previous weeks I've been busy wrapping up the winter sports) is New Mexico Junior College baseball probably has its most talented team overall since Ray Birmingham left to coach at University of New Mexico.
  While the Thunderbirds (21-9 overall, 10-2 and in first place of the WJCAC) split their games with Odessa College on Saturday, getting an uncharacteristically bad performance from a pitching staff in game two (giving up 20 hits and 11 runs) that has an ERA of 3.59 this season, it's easy to see the pieces are in place to give Howard College (ranked fifth in the nation) a run for its money in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference.
  Along with a very good pitching staff (led by ace Sam Street and his minuscule 1.37 ERA), the T-Birds are very good defensively – anchored by last season's NJCAA Gold Glove Award winner at shortstop Christian Vazquez.
  While as a team the T-Birds are hitting .318, scoring runs is going to be this team's biggest issue – particularly with catcher and team leader Chris Wallis out for an undetermined amount of time after breaking an orbital bone.
  But coming into his own just in time for NMJC is Farmington's Damion Lovato. The sophomore from Piedra Vista High School has exploded onto the scene, and after getting just 12 at-bats prior to a doubleheader March 17 against Paradise Valley, has gone 13-for-23 (.565) with four home runs, two doubles, a triple and 13 RBIs in the T-Birds' last six games (NMJC is 5-1 during that stretch). This includes hitting a game-tying two-run homer in the fifth inning and a game-winning, walk-off two-run homer in the seventh against Odessa on Saturday in game one.
  Putting Lovato in the lineup with guys such Omar Gomez, Nick Gonzales, Emmanuel Forcier and Christian Vazquez and NMJC's offensive production should continue to increase.
  There are a couple chances to check the T-Birds out this week. NMJC hosts Midland College in a non-conference matchup 2 p.m. Tuesday and host Western Texas College in a doubleheader noon Saturday.