May 8, 2021

By Greg Selber

Click here for game photos

SAN BENITO – Saturday was the sort of day that proved to be a test of character, along with ability.

The SaberCats had been surprised by a pesky Greyhound nine in Game Two of the bi-district series, losing 5-4 to a bunch that was not terribly impressive, aesthetically speaking, but had come to play, nonetheless. This, after a 10-0 smashing had given Vela the 1-0 series lead the night before.

Now, on a sweltering day, the program was in danger of falling victim to the upset, of losing in the first round of the playoffs for the first time after five seasons in a row of advancing (2015 to 2019, 2020 doesn’t exist). Their frustrations had been evident in the Game Two defeat, as a 4-1 lead melted away and tempers flared on the visitors’ side.

But after the break between games, the SaberCats got their composure back and knocked off San Benito, 9-3, rising to 19-4 for the season and heading on to area, where they will take on Laredo United South this week.

Senior infielder Diego Cortez keyed the victory with a 4-for-4 showing at the plate, while classmate Matthew Perez singled and homered for Vela, which plated five runs in the second to move into command. The advance was assured by some timely pitching from a pair of freshmen as A.J. Reyes started the rubber match and soon gave way to classmate Jayden Martinez, who struck out six in a fine 5-inning stint. Sophomore Jake Dufner finished up for a club that has missed the excellence of senior flamethrower A.J. Sotelo on the hill but has found a way to survive and thrive. Senior Carlos Pena shut out the ‘Hounds Thursday at home, with junior David White and sophomore Bobby Garcia working through Game Two.

It was going to take some offensive power to help the Sabes get past a San Benito squad that refused to play the patsy, and that was accomplished as Vela knocked out 11 hits in the clincher. That, and clutch hill toil from the youngsters ensured the Coach Jaime Perez’ bunch was on to the second round for the sixth time in program history.

The first time came in 2015, when the Sabes beat P-SJ-A before losing to Victoria East in area. Over the next four campaigns Perez and Co. claimed nine series victories, including three in 2018 and a pair in 2019, before the aborted run of 2020. Discounting their two initial seasons (18 wins, 36 defeats from 2012 to 2013), the Sabes have won 73 percent of their games over seven tremendous moons, and will now take on the Panthers, champs of 29-6A.

United South has never been among the illustrious luminaries of a city known for great baseball, i.e., the likes of United and Alexander. In their first four seasons, starting in 2007, the Panthers compiled a monumentally abysmal record of 8-87. Their first winning mark of 15-12 came in 2012, and a groundbreaking first playoff trip came in 2015, when they were beaten in bi-district by Palmview. Two years later they made it again, only to lose to McAllen High, ending a season during which they had been clobbered 7-1 by Vela in a tournament.

After a .500, non-playoff showing in 2018, the Panthers enjoyed a banner run in 2019, beating La Joya, Harlingen, and Los Fresnos before dropping out at the regional round against Lake Travis.

This year’s crew went through the league in good shape, copping the crown with a .321 batting average and a fair 3.66 ERA. They beat Alexander twice in three tries, won once against United in three bouts, and swept LBJ in three wins. The 17-4 record includes a loss to Pioneer in a tournament, but a bi-district triumph over SA Harlan, 2-1 and 6-3. This sets up the area round clash with Vela.

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