April 1, 2021

By Greg Selber

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It was April Fools’ Day, which normally calls for light-hearted practical jokes or pranks across the land, and after the first inning Thursday, the Bobcats found themselves wishing to say, jk, let’s start over. Anything would have worked, a do-over, Mulligan, whatever.

But there was no reset to this one, and so after an eight-run uprising by the SaberCats in their very first at-bat, this game was for all intent and purposes over.

The eventual 12-2 victory came soon enough, in six innings, as Vela rose to 10-2 in District 31-6A and EHS dropped to 8-4. It meant that the ‘Cats would have to wait another day to clinch a playoff spot, as Vela batted around and then some, collecting five hits and a pair of walks in the early demolition. Following the detonation, the rivals played on a relatively even keel, but the damage was done and it was fatal.

For Vela it was a breeze and a tonic, especially as the Sabes move forward without the services of ace pitcher A.J. Sotelo, out for the year with an injury after having fanned 25 batters in 16 innings, with only two walks and nine hits allowed. For the ‘Cats, who have put together one of the top mound rotations in the Valley, it was probably a one-off. They had come from behind in the final inning Tuesday with five two-out runs to beat Mission, and have their sights set on a postseason berth that is at this point almost a lock.

But still, it hurt, because with a victory, EHS could have climbed further up the league standings. And it was not indicative of the solid performance the ‘Cats have put in through the course of 2021.

With Sotelo on the shelf, all of a sudden the other arms in Coach Jaime Perez’ arsenal have become way more important. Thursday, senior Carlos Pena stepped up like a champ, going the distance with a four-hitter, striking out six, including the side in the third. The slender righthander Carlito had his way against EHS, throwing darts down in the zone and employing a nasty curveball that did its job in avoiding what are usually pretty potent Bobcat bats. For the year, Pena, also hitting .368 as an infielder, has compiled a 3-0 record with a tiny 0.35 ERA, while junior David White (1.91, 15 K’s in 15 P) had also done well on the hill.

And if Vela gets decent pitching, it will generally win, thanks to a powerful offense that cranks at .330 as a team, producing about 8.5 runs per game. Against a host of EHS hurlers, the Sabes got eight hits and drew eight walks, with senior infielder Diego Cortez leading the charge; he was 3 for 3 with three RBI, while strong-armed center fielder James Canning was 2 for 2 with a pair of walks. Leadoff man Jaime Perez Jr., out at shortstop where he displayed his all-around skills, walked twice, scored twice, and stole a base, while junior catcher Rudy Gonzalez, having a marvelous season, plated three runs and is now at .436 for the year with a team-leading 18 RBI.

Vela had defeated North Tuesday, as the Coogs are in the midst of a 10-game losing streak, by stealing seven bases and scoring five runs over two innings to put away an 8-2 triumph. Prior to that, the Sabes had been bested by league-leading La Joya March 26, committing an uncharacteristic four errors along the way. Thursday they made just one fielding mistake, stole a couple of bags, and benefited from momentum starting in the first.

Perez Jr. walked and came to third on a slick hit-and-run single from Cortez, followed by a two-run single from Gonzalez. The Sabes went up 3-0 after a wild pitch, ascended to 5-0 after Canning walloped a two-run single, and then coasted into the distance when Cortez came to bat again and cracked a bases-clearing double.

That was really all there was to it, as EHS got it rolling after that and stopped the bleeding. The ‘Cats got single runs in the fifth and sixth, courtesy of a sacrifice fly from senior Manny Cantu and then a run-scoring hit from catcher Jorge Salinas, who is bashing along at .541 for his senior campaign.

Each time, though, Vela doubled that output with two tallies in the fifth and sixth. In the fifth, Pena moved the runner over with a very good bunt, leading to a run off a passed ball, and then Gonzalez nudged another in after being hit by a pitch. The sixth-inning two-spot came with two outs, singles from Perez Jr. and Cortez doing the deed.

EHS had won three in a row since a loss to P-SJ-A, and will finish this way: Pharr North, at La Joya, North, and at P-SJ-A. Right now it’s La Joya first, Vela second, the Bears third at 9-2, and the ‘Cats at 8-4. Beating the Raiders Tuesday will get EHS in. As for Vela, the Sabes close thus: at the Bears, Juarez-Lincoln at home, a trip to Econ, and a finale against Mission. Speaking of the Jags, they won their third league game recently to move into sixth in a stacked district, going ahead of North by a notch. Junior Dalys Hernandez has come on for Econ to hit .310, and he was 3 for 4 in the 2-1 win over the Coogs March 23. Sophomore Andrew Luna (.348) had a 2-for-2 night against North while senior Manny Benavidez yielded two hits and fanned six that day. For the year, Manny’s got 33 strikeouts in 31 innings.

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