March 9, 2021
By Greg SelberClick here for game photos
One can often set a watch by softball, not just in terms of the clockwork nature of the game – it’s way more fluid and snappy than, say, baseball – but also as regards odds. In softball the best team almost always wins and it is easy to check the schedule and see which matches are going to be mismatches, automatic 15-0 results.
But Tuesday was a bit more confusing, because EHS came over to Vela with a 2-1 district record, same as the Lady SaberCats. This was a Rivalry Game, meaning that even though Jon Maples’ club has dominated the city (and Valley) the past few years and was ranked in the state’s top 25 recently, Ramon Arciba and the Lady Bobcats were ready and willing to have a go. Stats and records, usually the metrics that pay, can be rendered less oracle-like when bitter foes get together.
Arciba’s youthful group, which has only three seniors of note in the lineup, was coming off a 31-6A loss to Mission and a non-league shellacking at the hands of a mighty Harlingen band, during which some of its weaknesses had become apparent.
“We made too many errors, we were right with them for awhile until we lost it,” said the long-time manager, of the Lady Card defeat. “You can’t beat anybody when you make seven errors, forget it. Plus, we left 16 runners on base; if we get some hits when we need them, it’s a different ball game.”
The goal coming in was for the Lady Bobcats to make the routine plays, get some timely bat work, and see what was to be.
“I want them to bring the work ethic, the energy, and most of all, an open mind,” Arciba explained. “We have beaten some teams, yes, but I want to see us play well against the best, against teams that are going to be there iatn the end of the season, in the standings. It’s a big test for us.”
Meanwhile, Vela had suffered a loss in league play to a Pharr North team that appears to be back in the upper echelon after some years in the wilderness of mediocrity. Maples discussed the oddities of the campaign as the clubs waited for the first pitch.
“Pandemic Year 2,” he smiled wryly. “This should be the first district game, not the, what, fourth? It’s all mental with us, really, because we don’t have the routine, the flow from eighth period out to the field. Not much non-district, tournaments, preparation, all that. Girls are at home, in front of computers, it’s just been weird. But we have great senior leadership and they have helped us adjust. We have to keep adjusting to the way things are, every team has to, that’s just the way it is.”
By the time Tuesday was in the books, both schools had answered some questions and had to feel decent about the proceedings. The Lady Bobcats made their share of the routine plays – Vela actually committed more errors, four to three – and hit the ball well enough off ace hurler Bri Salinas of the Blue and Black. They were down just 3-2 after two frames, then weathered some heavy lumber from Vela and were behind 7-5 heading into the bottom of the sixth. From there, the Lady Sabes bombed away for seven more runs to clinch a 14-6 victory that was somewhat closer than the tally indicates.
THE TEAMS AT A GLANCE
As suggested, it’s a new-look EHS crew in 2021 as besides seniors Hannah Vega at short, outfielder Alexia Abrego, and catcher-first baseman Patty Davila, the rest of the bunch is underclass-dominated. The starting pitcher against Vela was a little junior named Alynna Garza, who at first glance might remind one of a left-handed version of former program great Leanne Hinojosa. She kept the Lady Sabes guessing with tricky deliveries and pitches dripping with natural lefty sway and tail. After giving up a ringing double off the wall to Vela second baseman Sarah Cortez, making it 3-1 in the first, Garza rallied to end the second with a swinging strikeout of one of Vela’s college signees, star Monee Montilla (.500). That ain’t easy to do.
Her teammates scratched out a run in each of the initial two innings as Davila, the North transfer, drove home one in the first and junior Aliyah Reyes – younger sister of Lady ‘Cat legend Amber – followed suit in the second.
Salinas, one of the top pitchers in the RGV, settled in after that, with Maples later saying that given the topsy turvy nature of the year, Salinas has been working on finding her groove on the mound sooner than later. The powerful righty was to yield eight hits to EHS, but worked through her paces with veteran poise, withstanding the club’s intermittent defensive woes to earn the W.
Garza of the visitor was relieved by Ashlie Ruiz, a promising prospect who has been saddled with a back injury and is just now coming healthy for the club. Sophomore Ariella Ramirez finished up on the hill for Arciba.
Offensively, Vela hammered whatever arm happened to be out there, amassing a whopping 19 hits, including home runs from Salinas and senior Karina Guzman. The first kid went yard in the fourth with a towering moon shot that made it 7-2. After EHS scrapped for a three-spot in the fourth with four hits – including a ringing double from Davila – Guzman popped a one-out circuit clout good for three runs and a 10-5 bulge.
Though the ultra-reliable 3-4-5 mashers went nine for 14 Tuesday, Maples was equally excited about the rest of the gang, which together got 10 hits. Leadoff hitter Elysia Pena smacked a pair of doubles, seventh hitter Destine Garcia, a catcher who was also a mainstay on the school’s basketball team – had three safeties, and eighth slotter Arleena Ponce had two RBI.
“We know our offense is going to come through most of the time,” said Maples, who took his girls to the Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons – he’s gone 83-18 the past three runs – prior to last season’s aborted campaign. “It’s good to see everyone contributing. For example, Ponce, there is a great kid who has been patient, waited for her turn, earned her spot, and is doing well.” The coach also lauded his double play combo of Cortez at second and junior Victoria Rogers at short. Both have been battling injuries but neither flinched at all from the pressure of a Rivalry Game. Cortez in particular, as she drove in three runs and made two diving plays afield to turn potential trouble balls into force-outs at second with flips to Rogers.