After a final-four finish last year, it appeared Magdalena had all the tools to take down this year’s state title, but the injury bug has bitten the Steers hard in 2024.
Now, with District 1-1A play just nine days away, the Steers are down three starters: ace pitcher Josiah Candelaria, catcher Josh Vigil, and outfielder and right-handed pitcher Joseph Zamora.

Josiah Candelaria, a freshman, went 7-0 and had a team-high 41 strikeouts during the regular season last year. Zamora is the Steers’ top returning home run hitter, and Vigil is a talented up-and-coming eighth grader.

Now, the Steers are facing a season defined by injury and the need to transform themselves.

“I’m looking for some young guys to step up and take advantage of the opportunity to play,” Steers coach Kyl Candelaria said.

Sophomore right-hander Shane Montoya will step into the number one spot on the mound, and he’s got experience. Montoya threw 38 strikeouts in 24.2 innings last season and will be looking to lower his 3.69 ERA.

It’s not like the Steers are without pitching. Still, Ayden Herschbach and Matthew Lopez have limited experience, and Zamora at 6’ 5” gives Magdalena a “what did they just do to us look?”

It’s been a while since Candelaria was in this situation, but he’s confident his team can pull together and make another run toward a state championship. The Steers have defending state champion Melrose on their schedule on April 17 and open district play on April 20 against Northwest.

“I’m working on it, trying to find rotations, having different guys pitch, and trying to fill anything for us. We’re just looking to steal games from people. We’re having to change the way we play, and we’re kind of having to small ball teams, bump people over, put on hitting runs, and stuff like that,” Candelaria said.

Magdalena hasn’t had to small-ball people in the past, but there are reasons to change things up.

“We don’t have the power, and I don’t have the experience I’m used to relying on. So those young guys are having to step up and fill roles, and it won’t be easy,” Candelaria said. “They’re going to make mistakes because they lack experience, but we’re really leaning heavily on our young guys to put the ball in play and be able to move base to base, and they’re just going to have to learn on the go. We’re going to have to learn to be patient.”

Because of the Steers’ recent success, one of the biggest things baseball fans overlook when it comes to Magdalena is how young the team is at this point.

There’s only one senior on Matthew Parker, but players like fellow team captain Javen Tafoya are stepping up and taking on leadership and coaching roles.

During the Steers’ game against Mescalero, Tafoya offered little hints and told younger players what was expected of them in certain situations.

“Javen is one of our captains this year, and I’ve coached him since he was five; I’ve had Jayden Piasso, Joseph, and Ayden, and everybody on this team has coached them since T-ball. This is a team that I brought up with me except for some of our younger guys, like our eighth graders,” Candelaria said.

Tristan Alvarez, Ayden Herschbach, Matthew Parker, Zeb Apachito, Joseph Zamora, Josh Vigil, Matthew Lopez, Josiah Candelaria, Shane Montoya, Javen Tafoya, Israel Molina, Jayden Piasso and managers Flint Apachito and Amaris Candelaria.