By Mickey Winfield, PNT Staff Writer
Little League coach Sammy Villanueva is taking his fourth consecutive Roosevelt County All-Star team to the New Mexico state tournament. This year, he’s taking the 10-and-11 year-olds to Taos.
As the District 3 champions, the Roosevelt County boys will play Albuquerque Mile High in the first round Saturday morning — a matchup that Villanueva says is sure to be a challenge.
“(Mile High) won their district and at all the levels — anything in Little League, they’re one of the top teams in the state,” Villanueva said. “We’d prefer to play somebody more our size. We’re pretty small. We’re right up there around the smallest league size.”
In the last four years taking Roosevelt County teams to the state tournament, Villanueva sees one problem this team will have to overcome.
“We’ve never just went and hit the ball well when we’ve went to state,” Villanueva said. “When I mean hit well, get up there and swing the bat. A lot of times the kids will get that deer-in-the-headlights look when they just won’t do it, and they can.”
Pitcher and second baseman Eli Tapia knows a large challenge looms.
“(We) just have to have heart,” Tapia said. “We need to play as hard as we can to win.”
“We’re going to have to do some extra things to beat the bigger teams,” Villanueva said. “We’re going to have to lay-out for balls, we’re going to have to do the extra things to beat those bigger teams but it’s happened before. We’ve beat some big teams. We’ve been down there before.”
Villanueva says the pitching staff is anchored by three solid starters with several more good arms on the squad.
“Our kids are starting to come around,” Villanueva said. “Last night at practice they looked real good. We’ve got three kids throwing the ball real well, and we’ve got five other kids that can come in and help. Tapia is throwing real well, Nate Salas is throwing real well and Daniel Hernandez — those are going to be our big three going in.”
“(We need to) concentrate on the game,” outfielder Isaiah Alvarado said. “I need to do everything I can to help our All-Star team win.”
“When you go to the state tournament, every one of those teams is going to be good,” Villanueva said. “They’re all going to be fundamental, it’s always tough.”
If the Roosevelt County boys begin the double-elimination tournament with a win Saturday morning, they’ll play Monday at 4 p.m. A Saturday loss, however, would force the team to play an elimination game Sunday at 2 p.m.
“Confidence-wise, these guys are ready to go. They’re excited. I feel real good about this deal because I feel like we’re peaking when we need to,” Villanueva said. “These past few practices, I can just see where the kids have stepped it up another level.”