March 23, 2021

By Greg Selber

Click here for game photos

In honor of March Madness, the Lady Jags went out against North Tuesday at home, seeking to become the Florida Gulf Coast – the No. 15 seed that made an improbable and memorable run to the Sweet 16 in the 2013 NCAAs – of the softball ranks.

And after four innings of spirited competition, Econ was right in there, tied 1-1 with the perennial power Lady Cougars. Like Cinderella teams will do in the tournament, the Lady Jags pulled off some stunners, balanced delicately on the precipice, and stayed alive behind a gutty pitching outing from veteran Arianna Tagle.

But just when it seemed that like history was in the making, it all collapsed, with North plating 13 runs in what would be the final two innings to cap a 14-1 victory and surge to 7-2 in District 31-6A. Just like those lower seeds in the Big Dance, Econ started making mistakes under pressure, and the enthusiasm of the early innings melted away, fast.

North, stymied through four, exploded for eight runs in the fifth and five in the sixth, the result tying the Lady Coogs for second with Vela, who was shockingly walloped 15-3 by league-leading Pharr North Tuesday.

The game was made even more difficult for the Orange because coach Sammy Arciba did not attend, following a death in the family. Luckily, assistants Aaron Guerra and Victoria Salazar have impeccable diamond pedigrees, Guerra as a former professional baseball pitcher and Salazar as a softballer with the great North nines of old. Inning by inning, the assistants worked and hustled, while their players responded with fire, energy, and some outstanding bits. Though they dropped to 1-8 in district with the defeat, the Lady Jags are starting to show signs of improvement.

In their last outing, Saturday, they’d popped an early three-spot on La Joya before fading against the Lady Coyotes. And Tuesday, for a long spell, the home dugout was loud and the East Side fans were well into the affair.

Tagle, playfully called “Tay-gull” by her teammates, started out sharply, yielding a single run in the first after a steal and error, with freshman first baseman Cassie Vega-Farias making a nice scoop at the bag to end the inning. Vega-Farias is one of three 9th-graders making a splash for Arciba this season, along with the De Hoyos-Aguirre twins, Angelique and Angelinne. The former is a catcher who seems very comfortable behind the plate and had two hits Tuesday, while the latter is a left fielder who made a fine running catch against North. Sometimes the Lady Jags still have hesitation in telling the two apart; they wear No. 14 and 15.

“Let’s go … Angelique!” the dugout shouted at one stage, amid a few giggles.

The Lady Jags have averaged six errors per game so far in 2021, and in the second committed two on a single play. But Tagle concentrated through it, ending the frame without damage after fielding a hard shot back at her off the stick of North OF Melo Cantu.

Coming to bat, Econ scratched out a run by drawing three walks wrapped around a single from Vega-Farias – whose brother plays for the school’s baseball crew – and knotted the event at 1. North soph Juliana Mancha, on her way to 10 strikeouts and a three-hitter, fanned a Lady Jag with the bases loaded to end the threat.

Tagle, a fiery veteran presence on the squad, started the third with a K against dangerous Kaylee O’Bryan of North, gave up a ringing double to slugger Bel Segoviano but got infield grounders to escape. Hope Gonzalez, the program’s most skillful player for several seasons, fielded one at third while shortstop Victoria Morales handled the other.

North nearly got going in the fourth, but De Hoyos-Aguirre fired to first after a strikeout to retire the side. At this point, the Lady Jags were sky high, feeling that maybe this was going to be their night to defy the odds.

But then came the bad times, with O’Bryan and Segoviano – who have now smashed away for 18 hits in 23 at-bats over the past three outings – leading the charge. The Lady Jags wilted as the Lady Coogs came on, and for the night, North would hammer out 12 hits and benefit from five Econ errors, five walks, and three hit batsmen. Segoviano was 4 for 5 with three runs batted in while O’Bryan drove in three and went 3 for 4.

Still, some other Lady Jags had their turn, including second baseman Vilma Delgadillo, who singled, walked and made a leaping catch late in the game. Gonzalez, a real gamer who proved it once again by dirtying up her uniform – in the pregame! – came on despite a back injury to finish up on the hill, and to a girl, the Lady Jags gave it 110 percent from start to conclusion.

Arciba could be back in the dugout in time for Friday’s annual Family Battle against her father Ramon’s EHS bunch, and it will be an understandably somber occasion. But the younger Arciba can be assured that in her absence, the staff took the helm ably and the girls worked hard, had a great time, and entertained hopes of a Florida Gulf Coast-style upset of their own … though it is probable that none of them have ever heard of Dunk City, that little upstart baller crew from Fort Myers.

One has to love a little artistic license every now and again. Especially when It fits.

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