Baseball: Defense keeps Longmont’s state title chances alive

Longmont shortstop Zach Zamudio fields a ball for a force-out at second during the Trojans' district tournament win over Fort Morgan on Saturday.
Longmont shortstop Zach Zamudio fields a ball for a force-out at second during the Trojans’ district tournament win over Fort Morgan on Saturday.

LONGMONT — Longmont High baseball coach Tom Fobes knows exceptional defense on the diamond when he sees it.

He ought to. He played for the 1981 Trojans squad that still owns the school record for fielding percentage over a season. But even he didn’t realize until he looked it up recently that his current team is poised to break the mark — one that’s been tracked at LHS since the early 1960s.

Fobes knew well, however, that defense is one major reason the 2012 Trojans are still playing. Longmont heads into the Class 4A state tournament on Friday boasting a .952 fielding percentage, just ahead of the .949 mark set by the 1981 team.

“That’s been a big part of it,” Fobes said at practice on Wednesday.

The Trojans (15-6), who entered the postseason seeded 11th in the 32-team district field, square off with No. 3 D’Evelyn (16-5) at 10 a.m. Friday at Cherokee Trail High School. The game will mark Longmont’s first trip to the eight-team, double-elimination state tournament since a 2005 Final Four run.

Seven years can feel like a long time between state tournament appearances, particularly for a winning program that makes the postseason every year during the drought only to come up agonizingly short.

In the last six years, the Trojans were eliminated from district play in one or two-run games four times. In four of those six years, they also sat at home while the teams that knocked them out made Final Four runs — including 2007 when the Trojans had led eventual state champ Cherokee Trail heading into the final inning of the district championship game.

So if there’s one team that isn’t taking anything for granted it’s the Trojans.

“The chemistry’s been pretty good,” said Fobes, who’s coached four previous LHS teams to the final eight since taking over the program in 2000. “The team attitude has been really good, and I think that’s carried us through.”

Such characteristics are key ingredients to fielding an outstanding defense, no matter the sport.

Standout starting pitchers Reilly Mau and Dylan Pollock have no doubt contributed to Longmont’s defensive success, doing plenty to keep opposing hitters off-balance.

But the Trojans took to heart a defensive mantra early in the season.

With the high school game’s mandated switch this spring to bats with less pop than older models, senior catcher Julian Moroyoqui said players can no longer blow off defensive miscues with the knowledge that they can easily make up for the gaffes in the batter’s box the next inning.

“I think everyone has accepted that on this team … and figured out we have to play defense to win games,” Moroyoqui said. “Our hitting is good. But I feel like the defense is what’s won us the games.”

Defense also helped the Trojans weather a rough second half of the regular season.

After a blistering 9-1 start, during which LHS averaged 9.7 runs per game, the Trojans’ hot bats went quiet. But despite a 4-5 finish to the regular season, the Trojans found ways to come out on top in a pair of one-run district games this season. They racked up just seven hits in the two games Saturday, but committed just two errors to their opponents’ five.

And now the Trojans are playing for the program’s second state title, the first coming in 1973 when Fobes was bat boy.

“We just kept fighting,” Pollock said of the late-season swoon. “We knew our bats weren’t there, so we knew we had to win it on the other said.”

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