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Dons, new coach are road warriors

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By Dave Kavanaugh

Chemistry shouldn’t be an issue for the West Las Vegas baseball team this spring.

Much of the Dons varsity has ample experience playing together and for Ryan Gabaldon, who’s taken over the program as head coach.

Not only had Gabaldon been a varsity assistant and middle school head coach for several years, he’s also coached many of his current players since they were members of his La Plaza Little League Cubs and All-Star lineups.

So there’s an easy familiarity among many of the players, which has helped ease the transition from last season to this one.

“We’re still young,” Gabaldon said, “but we’ve been together for a while. Pancho (Caro), Jose Juan (Montaño),  Andy (Gabaldon), Diego (Romero), Mikey (Ortiz), Travis (Valdez)... the core group has played together since Little League. Most of the kids have been together at least five years. Chemistry is very important. We’re already on the run; we’re not trying to figure each other out.”

That doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing for West. Due to current field conditions — an improvement project is pending — the team has played all its games to date on the road, a situation that may not change for some time.

It’s forced the Dons to adjust to plenty of travel and to playing without the benefit of a home crowd. Only six home games are on the current schedule, and it’s unclear as of press time where exactly those will be played.
The road warrior status has yet to dampen the group’s enthusiasm. As their coach said, “They just love to play. They love the game.”

Relatively young in terms of the number of seniors — and coming off a disappointing finish in 2012 — West has been largely overlooked by pollsters. Gabaldon said he’s using the lack of respect as motivational fuel.

“I’m glad they didn’t put us in the top 10,“ he said. “It’s a motivator. We’re going to be a Cinderella team. They’re counting us out, but watch out.”

Caro — one of just three seniors on the roster along with Gilbert Garcia and Carlos Lopez — leads a starting pitching rotation that includes Montaño and Jake Ulibarri.

Three frosh, led by Jorge Gallardo, are in the mix at catcher. Infielders include Diego Romero, Robbie Romero, Andy Gabaldon at first and second; Adrian Valdez and Caro at shortstop; Montaño, Caro and Travis Valdez at third.

Outfield rotation consists of Devin Medina, Ortiz, Carlos Lopez, Ulibarri, Brian Gonzales and Jeremy Fernandez.

Rounding out the roster are R.J. Lopez, William Lopez, Jordan Martinez, Jerod Padilla, Salvador Lopez, Albert Contreras.

“The boys are hitting; they’re playing ‘D.’ So far, so  good,” said Gabaldon.

Aiding Gabaldon are former Highlands standouts A.J. Alexander and Luis Saenz, along with other former players now working toward careers in teaching.

They’ve been a big help, Gabaldon said. “We’re all of us learning and growing together,” he said of his coaches and players.