March 12, 2021

By Greg Selber

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Less than a third of the way through the district slate and the softball battle lines have definitely been drawn.

After an opening day loss to Pharr North, Vela has won five straight, beating EHS and North along the way. EHS started with two wins but dropped three in a row before a weekend triumph over La Joya, while Econ exploded for 19 runs in its first 31-6A victory, against three defeats. Pharr North (4-0), Mission (5-1) and P-SJ-A (one loss) all seem to have quality editions this time around and the wild card is Edinburg North.

Somewhat like the Italian football club Juventus, reverently called The Old Lady in Calcio circles, North is a perennial winner that one can always count on for excellent softball. The program notched an amazing 20 playoff appearances in a row before last season’s aborted campaign, and has taken multiple postseason wins in a single season eight times, quite simply becoming one of the greatest teams in Valley history. And yet, North’s last playoff series victory came back in 2016, so this year’s bunch is intent on breaking through to that echelon again.

If the group is going to work its way through what is shaping up as a real Murderer’s Row of a league, a number of Lady Coogs will shoulder much of the burden. Start with hard-hitting junior shortstop Kaylee O’Bryan, who has assumed leadership chores this season, along with the redoubtable veteran, senior Bel Segoviano, her infield partner. In Friday’s 3-0 win at home over La Joya, both of those stalwarts made their presence felt, the former with a ringing single and a walk plus spotless play at short. Segoviano drove home the first one with a first-inning single, though North stranded 11 runners, which has been a bit of a team trouble spot despite a 7-2 overall start. Indeed, North left ‘em loaded in two innings against a pesky La Joya squad, pushing single runs across in the second and fourth to salt it away.

One of the other cogs to the machine this year is fleet little senior outfielder Mara Guerra, who went 3 for 4 on the night and made a terrific running catch out in center field in the fourth. That type of defensive gem helped sophomore hurler Joliana Mancha fashion a four-hit shutout. The right-hander lowered her ERA to 1.62 and has fanned 51 batters in 56 frames after punching nine Lady Coyotes out Friday.

North has definitely had its share of dominant pitchers through the years and the latest prospect is Mancha, who was the workhorse last season and will only improve in time. She also shows a good eye at the dish with a team-high nine walks drawn so far.

After Guerra in the leadoff spot, senior OF Melo Cantu (.448) and bangers O’Bryan (.586, 15 RBI, seven extra base hits) and Segoviano (531, 16 RBI), comes Mancha in the order. The six-through-nine kids against La Joya were junior 3B Leslie Tamez, 1B Odalys Luna, sophomore catcher Liana Urbano, and junior OF Jade Guerra, and each of them turned in solid moments.

Luna alertly snared a liner in the fourth, after a sharp pickup for an unassisted putout in the second. Urbano walked and singled Friday and handled herself with aplomb behind the plate, while Guerra got a hit and appeared to score a run in the third until it was disallowed by an odd umpiring decision, of which there a few, admittedly. Bespectacled Tamez aided the cause by reaching base twice after being plunked by pitches.

One need not worry about team spirit, because North has it, with a flourish. The program has always been known for that too, including the drumming exploits of Desiree Dominguez, now a coach at Vela, and the hilarious antics of songbird Alyssa Tressler, to name a few headliners of old.

This year’s holla crew is vintage, with seemingly every Lady Coog up and chanting, cheering and having a good ol’ time. Battery mates Mancha and Urbano are not shy in expressing themselves in the least while Luna is a true character who always has them laughing in the dugout. Camaraderie is at times an underrated galvanizing force, but the truth is, kids that laugh and sing together just might have the edge, when it comes to hanging tough and persevering, on those who do not. One-run non-district wins over Laredo United and Zapata last week may be spirit-connected, who knows.

We all know this: the glue that holds the whole operation together is of course the venerable Richard Tressler, who basically was at the ground floor of the whole softball program Valley-wide back in the day and shows no signs of having lost any intensity. He was involved in several spirited discussions with the arbiters during Friday’s encounter, and is a man who will always go to war for his kids. Long-time assistant Adrian Cavazos rides a sturdy shotgun this year, as always.

The 2020 season was a wash, basically, with the Lady Coogs at 10-10 overall and two games into the league season when the pandemic erupted. After two district W’s to start this campaign, North was beaten by Vela and Pharr North, but rose to 3-2 with the Friday result. The next challenge comes Tuesday at EHS and after that, a home game Thursday against P-SJ-A followed by the last match of the first half, Saturday at winless Juarez-Lincoln.

Every contest gives the Lady Coogs a chance to get closer to the goal, which has always been to make the playoffs, yes, but also win a league title and go on a long run in the playoffs. As history has shown, North is awfully good at doing all three, so don’t be surprised if this merry bunch of gals is right there at the top, or close, once it’s all said and done.

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