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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS ARRIVE, WITH VELA, EHS READY

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April 28, 2021

By Greg Selber

Click here for game photos

Without going into sordid detail – out of a sense of propriety and decency – one can still claim with certainty that it’s been a patchy sports road at EHS this season, with some monumental low spots and no little controversy out on Wisconsin. It continues still, no details.

That’s why the exploits of the two diamond outfits in Red and Blue are worth mentioning. Ramon Arciba’s softball girls came up a tad short after a three-way tie for the final playoff spot, but still completed a very satisfactory run for the roses. Meanwhile, Robert Valdez and the baseball ‘Cats appeared to be on the verge of a missed opportunity, having lost four of their last five starts. Pharr North conversely had crawled out of the tomb with a late winning binge to force a playoff for the fourth and final Golden Ticket. That this was decided Friday in favor of EHS, by a single run no less, is the testament to the steely fortitude of a veteran manager and to the battling spirit of Bobcat Pride; the kids got it done, and they’re in.

Two of the other city nines had long been eliminated from contention, with Econ (4-12 in district) and North (2-14) far off the pace set by league champ La Joya (16-0) and runner-up Vela (13-3). It was a long slog for the Jags, who split the season series with the Cougars but struggled to score runs (2.9 rpg) and get steady hurling (9.6 runs allowed); North was competitive throughout but sporadic in attack, losing eight games by four runs or less in 2021.

This marks the 16th playoff appearance for the Bobcats, who sat out the postseason in 2017 and 2018 before returning in 2019. Their last series win came back in 2016, when they beat San Benito and Del Rio before dropping out against Laredo Alexander. A year prior, in 2015, the program reeled off a banner performance, taking three series (San Benito, Eagle Pass, Laredo United) until being stopped at the regional round by SA Johnson.

Vela meanwhile will be in the Dance for the sixth year in a row, discounting the phantom 2020 campaign of course, and will be looking to make a strong foray into the bracket after clinching second seed from 31-6A with a victory over P-SJ-A Friday.

In 2016 the Sabes won twice before losing to Calallen in 5A, and made great strides in 2018 (three-deep) and 2019 (two series wins). Both Vela and EHS have nine lifetime wins in the playoffs to date.

The Sabes suffered just three defeats in league play and blanked their city foes in six tries, outscoring EHS, North, and Econ 54-9 in that stretch. They scored 10 or more runs seven times in district, averaged 8.6 runs per game, allowing just over three runs an outing.

Coach Jaime Perez’ club hits .324 as a team, with senior Mito Perez (.551, 24 RBI, 19 steals, 17 walks and just three strikeouts) as the catalyst in the leadoff spot. Rudy Gonzalez (.415, 21 RBI) has been very productive as has infielder Diego Cortez (.339) and first baseman Matthew Perez (eight doubles). Vela is choosy at the dish, having drawn 105 walks and struck out 102 times, and has stolen 55 bases, with Perez and Ivan Mendoza combining for 30 bags pilfered.

The Sabes come into the playoffs with a fine 2.29 team ERA, as senior Carlos Pena (5-0, 0.66 ERA) has carried the load quite well. Vela pitchers have fanned 141 batters in 116 innings so far.

As for the Bobcats, they hit .319 led by senior Jorge Salinas (.479, five triples), while classmate Arturo Martinez (.408, 16 RBI) has won four games on the mound. Junior Darren Barrera (.370, seven doubles) is a heavy hitter and pitcher of note; he fanned seven batters in a three-plus-inning stint last week against P-SJ-A. Burly junior J.R. Soto (.381, three pitching wins) has been steady while junior infielder Dylan Garza (.312) and outfielders Ben Gonzalez (.300 as a soph) have come on, as has freshman Leonel Kalifa (classy glove in center).

The ‘Cats team ERA is a middling 4.35, which means they might have to score a pack of runs to advance to area. Defensively, shortstop Manny (Mac and Cheese) Cantu is a veteran presence in the spine, with either Salinas or senior Adan Adame behind the plate.

The bi-district opponent is Harlingen, somewhat of a surprise winner from down south, as the Cards went unbeaten and outlasted Los Fresnos for the top spot. The baseball program has not been as successful as other sports at the school such as basketball and football, but there have been some high spots the past three seasons. Heading into 2017, Harlingen had been to the playoffs just four times in 17 seasons, winning one playoff game in 1998 but falling out in the first round the other three occasions. The Cards lost in the first round to Edinburg North in 2017 and then to Vela in bi-district 2018. The next season they beat EHS in round one before getting eliminated by Laredo United South. In 2021, the Card non-district results are decent: they have beaten McAllen, Pioneer and Brownsville Vets, losing twice to Sharyland and Pioneer, once to McAllen.

For Vela, it’s San Benito for round one, versus another upstart without a long history of baseball excellence. In fact, the Greyhounds have made just three postseason appearances, in 2003, 2012, and 2017. Interestingly, they contested matches with Edinburg schools in each season, beating Econ in 2003 before losing to CC Moody; topping EHS in 2012 before Alexander knocked them out; and dropping a bi-district series to the Bobcats in 2015.

It’s been feast or famine for the ‘Hounds this season as they scored 10 runs or more five times but were held to one run or less four other times. San Benny was beaten twice in 32-6A by rival Harlingen but managed a split with Los Fresnos and Weslaco. A late victory over Harlingen South – avenging an earlier debit versus the Hawks – clinched a spot in the bracket.

The Greyhounds are not especially impressive statistically, with a .277 team batting clip and an aggregate ERA of 4.17. They average three errors per game and have fanned 119 times as a team in 20 games. However, senior third baseman Gabe Sandoval (.367, 21 RBI) is a banger along with junior infielder Mauricio Padilla (.409, 22 RBI). Bryan Lopez is the top pitcher with four wins and an ERA of 3.85. Game One is Friday at Vela, with Saturday bringing Game Two at 1 p.m. – in Resaca City – and a clincher to follow shortly thereafter if need be.

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