The promise the Santa Fe High Demons showed in 2021 is turning into production in 2022.
Tuesday afternoon was a baseball game the Demons would have lost a season ago, when a group of mostly sophomores and juniors struggled, especially in late-inning situations.
A year older and more mature, they showed they could handle the pressure against the Valencia Jaguars. Trailing 9-7 with two runners on base in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Jaguars had a difficult choice: pitch to Jacob Mirabal or walk him to get to Adan Alvarez.
Valencia chose the second option. It proved to be a poor decision, as Alvarez stroked a walk-off double to center field that scored all three runs to cap a 10-9 win — the fourth straight for the Demons.
It’s a strong turnaround to a 0-5 start that had some Demons faithful wondering if it was a continuation of a 5-15 campaign in which the Demons lost four of five games decided by one run. The win over Valencia (5-4) gives Santa Fe High (4-5) a 1-0 mark in such games this season.
“I gotta commend their attitude,” Santa Fe high head coach Ian Farris said. “That is the biggest thing during this winning streak. They’re supporting each other, they’re always positive and it doesn’t matter what happens on the field. They’re locked in.”
If anything, it speaks to the team’s maturity, as it didn’t let the rough start affect its play. Granted, three of Santa Fe High’s losses were to last year’s Class 5A runner-up (Hobbs), the 4A state champion (Albuquerque Academy) and a 4A semifinalist (Artesia). On Thursday, the Demons will take on the reigning 3A champion Albuquerque Sandia Prep to open the Jim Pierce Memorial Invitational at St. Michael’s.
It’s a beefed-up schedule for a team that harbors aspirations of reaching the 5A state tournament, which the program has not done since 2009. In fact, a couple of Demons were looking ahead to this weekend’s tournament, with an eye on taking home a second trophy after winning the Aztec Invitational over the weekend.
“We’re going to win that tournament, too,” senior Luc Jaramillo said. “We definitely believe that.”
Farris said he likes the confidence his team exudes, because it’s backed up by their work ethic. That has showed in a .315 team batting average, which is a vast improvement from last year’s .249 effort. The Demons have three players over .400 and five hitting better than .300. Two more — Mirabal and Nicholas Sandoval — are just a tick under the magical .300 average.
That, in turn, the Demons scored an average of 5.7 runs per game, more than two runs better than last year’s 3.3 average. In fact, Santa Fe High has scored 51 runs in nine games, and could match the 66 scored last year by the end of the weekend.
Alvarez said it’s the team’s mindset, more than anything, that exemplifies the change offensively.
“It’s the energy — energy we bring to the game is what brings this team together,” Alvarez said.
Not to be overlooked is the improved pitching that showed what the Demons were capable of doing to hitters last weekend. The trio of Mirabal, Jaramillo and CJ Garcia held Aurora (Colo.) Rangeview, Taos and the host Tigers to just three runs while registering 40 strikeouts in just 16 combined innings.
Garcia started it with a 17-strikeout performance against Rangeview, followed by Jaramillo’s 11-K, one-hitter in a 10-0 win over Taos. Sandoval threw a two-hitter against Aztec in a 6-2 win in which he recorded 12 strikeouts. Those three are slated to pitch over the weekend, but Farris said he can go nine-deep with his pitching staff — a luxury he hasn’t had in past years.
“It hasn’t been that way since I’ve been here,” said Farris, who is in his fifth year with the program and was a part of the 2008 and 2009 Santa Fe High teams that made it the postseason. “This early part of the season has been about, ‘All right, what does our lineup look like? What does our pitching look like?’ Now that we have some games under our belt, we have a really good idea of who we want in certain matchups.”
The pitching staff will be tested once it gets into the District 5-5A season, when it faces the tough lineups of Los Lunas, Albuquerque Rio Grande and Manzano. Farris said that was the reason he put teams like the Albuquerque Academy, Hobbs, Sandia Prep and Artesia.
“Some people thought that I should schedule some easier games early on,” Farris said. “I felt like in the past, that’s hurt us. I wanted to see what we could do right away against the best players, the best teams.”
Farris and the Demons have the rest of the season to prove it was the right path to go.
At least they have matured to the point where they can handle the challenge — and welcome it.