March 30, 2021
By Greg SelberClick here for more game photos
History class now in session, NCAA softball first. Two women have had 11 RBI in a single game, and three have produced two grand slam home runs in the same day. Two of the five are the same person and it’s Stephanie Best of UCF, who completed the feats back in March 2003 against Army.
In baseball’s major leagues, such prodigious accomplishments are about as rare. Two men drove in a dozen runs in a game, Jim Bottomley for the 1924 Cardinals, and another Redbird, strangely, Mark Whiten, in 1993. A baker’s dozen (13) has slammed a pair of slams in the same outing, the first being the Original Italian Stallion, Tony Lazzeri of the Yankees, in 1936. The last was a chap named Josh Willingham for the Nationals of 2009. Amazingly, one of the 13 was a pitcher, the Braves’ Tony Cloninger, who turned the double in a 1966 game against the Giants.
Now there is Bri Salinas. She is sometimes a pitcher, and a very good one, but also a slugging star for the Lady SaberCats. They used to call Bottomley “Sunny Jim” back in the Twenties, and there is a connection there: Salinas is a bona fide free spirit, always grinning and goofing, a laid-back character who seems to have more fun than anyone else, doing the thing she loves. Have you ever seen this senior performer down, or out? Right.
She was definitely sunny on Tuesday, as Vela traveled to EHS for another battle with the Lady Bobcats. Like the first match between rivals, it was competitive for awhile until the Lady Sabes took control with 11 runs over the span of two innings, clinching a 14-4 victory and pretty much salting away second place in District 31-6A.
Salinas, playing third base while the equally excellent Karina Guzman took care of the mound chores, went yard twice, in consecutive innings. With the bases loaded each time. Add in a two-run single in the third, and over three innings, Salinas hammered in a whopping 10 runs.
A little local high school history. The leading RBI girl in town annals is Faith Escobar, a masher who hit 17 home runs in two seasons (2012-13) with North, driving in an ungodly 118 runs. Faithy posted some gargantuan run-inducing nights, including at least five ribbies on seven different occasions, seven once, and her career high of eight once. She also homered twice in one of the Lady Cougar playoff games and hit .538 lifetime.
Now there is Bri, who took her season RBI total from 20 to 30 Tuesday and is now batting a robust .545. She is one of the main linchpins of a Vela offense that averages 10 runs per game and has crashed 66 extra-base hits among its 164 hits. Coach Jon Maples’ band has crushed 20 homers – after a three-dinger night against EHS – and Salinas has six of them.
The Lady Sabes swat .412 as a team, and sooner or later, as most teams find out, they’re gonna get ya. It may be Salinas, or Guzman, or the lefty marvel Monee Montilla. Tuesday it was Destine Garcia, another sunny type who left the park with a solo job to start a seven-run fourth. A four-run fifth followed with a two-out circuit clout, based juiced, by Salinas to make it 13-4.
This, after the Lady ‘Cats had taken a 4-2 lead into the top of the fourth, hoping for the upset to keep their playoff hopes alive. They are still afloat, basically, and not many folks expected EHS to pull off the win. On a day when the visitors cranked out 17 hits (three from Montilla and three from Elysia Pena), nothing was going to stop the Lady Sabes, now 10-2 in district. EHS drops to 6-6 with four games left in the district slate.
THE CAST OF CHARACTERS
Maples is fond of discussing his players and generally he focuses not only on their abilities, but their character as well. For instance, Salinas has been struggling with a hip injury suffered a few weeks back, which means Guzman has been called upon to pick up the pitching slack.
“She’s been like, ‘Gimme the ball, I got this,’” said Maples of his senior hurler, who Tuesday gained her sixth win of the year. “That’s the kind of kid she is, for three years now she has been working, shouldering a lot of the burden. Karina is the type who the younger girls can look up to, because of the way she is, on the field, in the classroom, etc. They can know that, well, you want to know how it’s done? Watch No. 10.”
Maples has equal plaudits for his stellar first baseman Montilla, calling her a special individual from a special family.
“She has meant so much to our program, just the way she is, how she has acted and performed,” said the coach of the senior who is hitting, oh, just .638 with 14 extra-base knocks. “There’s something about her, she’s really a great kid, and of course, when she gets out on the field, forget about it, she’s just a great player.”
Montilla is a vocal sort, confident and joyous, someone who has faith in her skills and just lets the flow come. She is also a very funny girl. Against EHS the public address announcer mispronounced her name, and when he corrected himself, Montilla was twirling the bat, laughing out loud, good-naturedly.
While Salinas and Guzman have been offensive powerhouses through the years, no doubt, Montilla, who will be playing college ball next year up in San Antonio, probably has more upside. She has a picture-perfect swing from the left side and is one of those rare birds who looks good even when she misses, which isn’t often. At first pillow she is agile and aggressive and is a player whom the others seem to look to for inspiration.
In Tuesday’s game every name in the lineup got at least one hit, and Maples said afterward that even when the Lady Sabes went down by two runs, they never blinked. Second baseman Sarah Cortez continues to show her training in the field, spotting pops and moving well, making the plays. Shortstop Victoria Rogers has become a deadly ninth-place hitter, often jumpstarting rallies by getting on base, while left fielder Ava Perez, a sophomore who represents part of the future, has settled in well this season after experiencing the perennial sophomore ups and downs.
Maples praised all these kids for sticking with the work, playing through the valleys, and producing. While Vela has been beaten twice by a Pharr North club that is very threatening, the hopes are still high for a long playoff run.
Meanwhile EHS showed once again that it will not back down from anyone. To start Tuesday, lefty Alynna Garza kept the Murderer’s Row off balance with a couple of expert innings. Later she illustrated her versatility by moving to shortstop, where she fielded flawlessly and scored a rarity as a left-handed middle infielder. Mike Squires, White Sox 1975-85.
Outfielder Sam Saenz went 2 for 3, as EHS collected nine hits on the night – gutty second sacker Aliyah Reyes, hitting .333 as a junior, had two hits. A kid who has been through the ringer injury/health-wise, Reyes is a testament to what hard work and belief will do. As for Saenz, just watch her throw from the outfield; it’s one-hop laser art, every time.
The rest of the Lady Bobcats have pulled their share of the weight as well, with senior Patty Davila (.525, 18 RBI) having a superb season at catcher and first base, although not at the same time, obviously.
It’s been fits and starts for Coach Ramon Arciba’s unit, with a recent win over Mission as a signature point. That battle between schools looking for the postseason went back and forth until the Lady ‘Cats pulled out the result. Arciba, in the midst of his own woes after the loss of his father last week, expressed real gratitude toward his kids after they managed to knock off the Lady Eagles. The last four games will tell the tale for EHS, as it takes on Pharr North, La Joya, North, and the Bears. This is a solid group that as suggested will always bring the fight, and making the playoffs would be quite a fine thing, because 31-6A this season is a real bear. Do not count the Lady ‘Cats out, says here.
And to conclude, Salinas again. What a mammoth night from one of the program’s all-time best. True to her personality, she was not too high or too low as she jogged around the bases following the second grand slam. Some kids might have come unglued during such a magic moment, but Bri, well, Bri is Bri, and she is one of a kind. The only thing that might have been better is if she had gotten the chance to smash twin slams in the same inning. Final historical note: that was Fernando Tatis, back in 1999, again a Cardinal oddly. Only guy ever.