Seen milling about with players before a game at IHS Field in 2022, Isiah Valdez – assistant coach to Duke Baker during Ignacio's successful '22 and 2023 seasons – was made head coach for the 2024 campaign.
Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Photo Credit: Rosaleigh Concepcion | The Southern Ute Drum
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Valdez guiding Bobcat Baseball in ’24

Former aide up to build on Baker’s success 

Increasingly graying skies, a temperature in the low 40s, plus drizzling rain becoming something of snow – all that Ignacio’s Bobcats could have dealt with Thursday afternoon, March 14, if it meant starting their baseball season as scheduled. 

A shortage of available umpires, however, couldn’t be remedied in time for IHS to host 2A/1A San Juan Basin League rival Dove Creek, and the varsities’ showdown was postponed to a date yet to be determined. 

But with the program’s pursuit of both a third consecutive SJBL title and a third consecutive CHSAA Class 2A State Tournament berth now set to begin after IHS’ Spring Break, Isiah Valdez viewed the delay more as a blessing in disguise. 

“Everybody was ready to play, and it was a bummer that we didn’t get to go out there and show everything we’ve been working on,” he admitted, “but … I think we’ll have an extra two weeks of practice, now, before our first official game.” 

“But, you know, the boys will be ready; I’ve got high expectations for them.” 

After posting a 29-17 overall (8-4 SJBL) record the past two years, the ’Cats – who finished 14-9 last spring after an upset loss to Wray in the State Tournament’s opening Round-of-32 – will certainly be expected to make more noise throughout the southwest as well as parts unknown in 2024. 

“We want to make a run at the playoffs – it’s expected of them – and they have the qualities of a State-caliber team,” said Valdez, in his first year as head coach after two as an assistant. “We’re returning a lot of guys and we’ve added some good young guys, so expectations are high.” 

And perhaps even higher for the rookie skipper as he takes over for former boss and ’23 SJBL Coach-of-the-Year Duke Baker, unexpectedly not re-hired after two seasons guiding IHS’ program back to prominence. 

“He had good success,” Valdez emphasized, “and for reasons out of my control, you know, the school went a different route. I’m just grateful and blessed to get the opportunity to coach this great group of young men.” 

“Obviously he’s not there … but nothing’s really changed,” he said, addressing the question concerning continuity of instruction from head coach to new head coach. “Lots of things done in the past are still being done … and it is what it is.” 

“Season’s starting off good, as far as practice goes. We’ve got a pretty good turnout, got six out of our nine starters back, and we’ve got a good freshman and a couple good sophomores returning to varsity. And these kids are well-aware, in their third year with me, that we take just about as many reps as anybody in the state – especially on defense. So, this year we’re going to focus a lot on mechanics in the cage, mechanics at the plate – we’re going to do as many reps as we can, you know?” 

Returning assistant Lawrence Toledo returns as part of Valdez’s staff, which this year includes Toledo’s son Lawrence, a former Bobcat catcher and 2021 Ignacio graduate. 

“Lawrence … he’s a big team-morale guy and the kids like him. He does the same things he’s been doing and throws in the cage a lot,” said Valdez, a 2006 IHS grad. “And his son … has a lot of knowledge; it’s just getting him to come out of his shell. I learned as a young coach, it’s kind of hard sometimes to understand, you know, your boundaries – or why a head coach would want to bring you on!” 

“I think that’s where ‘little’ Lawrence is at; he’s kind of in the spot I was when I first started coaching, where ‘I have to be willing to step forward and let these guys know I know what I’m talking about.’ And he’s learning every day like the kids are.” 

With Spring Break running from the 18th through the 23rd, Ignacio will next try to see action at 2 p.m. Tuesday, March 26, versus non-league 2A Monte Vista. After a season-opening 10-4 loss on the 8th at 3A Gunnison, the Pirates then – despite wintry weather compromising field conditions – played twice at the March 15-16 Crowley County/Fowler Tournament, losing 9-1 to Limon but beating CCHS 3-0. A final game versus a team from the other three-team pool was denied by the elements. 

“I think it’ll kind of be one of those early feeling-out games,” Valdez said. “I think (Monte Vista) ended up winning their (league) last year – if I remember correctly – so they’re going to be a tough challenge, you know, to open with.” 

Having started their season March 12 with an extra-inning 7-6 loss at 4A Shiprock, N.M., Dove Creek (0-1, 0-0 SJBL) is scheduled to next play on the 23rd in Gallup, N.M., versus Rehoboth Christian, with first pitch against the Lynx – runner-up in the 2023 NMAA/Nusenda Credit Union Class 2A State Baseball Championships – targeted for high noon. The Bulldogs will then welcome SHS on the 26th for an eagerly anticipated 2 p.m. rematch. 

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