May 21, 2021

By Greg Selber

Click here for game photos

LOS FRESNOS – The later in the playoffs one goes, the steeper the incline, the harder the slog. Sudden death, of course, awaits, or extended life. One little slip up, done.

Here Friday, Vela was truly up against it, as a riveting one-shot series against Los Fresnos took place.

For one thing, the mosquitoes in the soggy, green rescaca country are resplendent these days, half again the size of the average hummingbird and much more persistent. Then there was the persistence of Los Fresnos pitcher Victor Loa, who missed most of the campaign due to injury but has returned with a vengeance, showing why he will join the arms race at Texas State in the fall. And finally, there was this. The Falcon rooters were a spirited bunch. One fellow in particular stood alone, bellowing out insults at the umpires and shockingly, the Vela players – a tack generally seen to be outside the pale, not to mention appallingly immature – and had clinched the Ass of the Year award by the third or fourth inning.

At any rate, the game was a taut thriller, the SaberCats scratching and clawing to stay in the fight and win the chance to advance to the Sweet 16 for the second time in program history. Loa was on his way to 14 strikeouts and a masterful one-hitter, and small children were consistently being carried away into the forbidding night by hordes of marauding insects. OK, only the first part is true. The Idiot from Los Fresnos issued a loud and grotesque “he deserved it!” when one of the Sabes was hit by a pitch in the seventh, whereupon he was finally – finally – warned by the PA man to cease and desist, which he did, thank the Furies.

It was a wild night of playoff baseball, decided only on the last gasp of the bout, when a valiant Vela attempt at an inning-ending double play came oh, so close in the bottom of the seventh. The winning run crossed the plate after a high, sailing throw on the turn ticked off the first baseman’s mitt. Earlier in the inning, as the Falcons tried to move on against a battling Vela band, a grounder had hopped off the lip of the infield and over the visiting shortstop’s head.

The Little Things, and that is baseball. Just like 1924, when on two separate Game Seven occasions Washington grounders hit a pebble and bounced over the head of third baseman Freddy Lindstrom of the Giants, handing the World Series crown to the Senators of ancient (at that stage) Walter Johnson.

For the Sabes, 21-5 to finish, the 2-1 defeat was a poison pill, but they gave a fierce effort, rallying from a 1-0 deficit to tally the tying token in the fifth on a clutch single from senior Ivan Mendoza, after a stolen base from sophomore pinch runner Justin Navarro. The muscular lefty Loa was grooving on fire all night, as presaged when he struck out eight of the first nine Vela hitters. His counterpart, Carlos Pena, was almost as effective, living low in the zone, nibbling the corners, and hurling to the end of his pitch count, continuing the role of savior for a club that had lost its ace to injury before the 2021 season was too far along. The slender righty kept his team afloat in a memorable outing that capped a simply superb senior run.

At the end of the day, one cannot expect to win often when managing just a single base hit. But the Sabes nonetheless created their chances, including the top of the seventh, when Rudy Gonzalez reached on a HBP and Matthew Perez coaxed a walk. With two on and no outs, it looked like they might go in front but then Vela failed to bunt successfully, whereupon the dominant Loa rebounded to register two more K’s, setting the stage for the fatal Falcon comeback in the bottom half of the frame.

The Sabes played error-free ball in the third round but allowed the lead runner of an inning to reach base on four separate occasions. The final time, a walk in the seventh, set the ball rolling to the eventual denouement, as Los Fresnos then connected on two of its six hits for the night, one of which was of the Lindstrom variety. Later, on another infield grounder, the Sabes got what they had needed, a chance to roll a pair and get out of the jam. But instead of preparing for extra innings, the Blue and Black fell victim to the oldest axiom going, the ol’ Game of Inches, and its attempt at the twin-killing missed by centimeters.

Time stood still as the runners circled the bases, and after the horsehide clipped tantalizingly off the leather, Falcons were soon piled up joyously near the mound, the Sabes remaining rooted to their respective spots, stunned and deflated, having let it all hang out and very nearly having survived to throw more hands at the enemy.

So the season is over and it was a quality ride for Vela, a slightly over-achieving bunch that put a couple of trophies in the burgeoning case and can stow equipment in the knowledge that it was one of three Valley units still active in the Second Season until Friday night.

As for Los Fresnos: let it be noted that generally, when one local nine beats the other in the Rare Air, most fans around will be rooting for the victor to continue forward and to “represent,” as the modern colloquialism has it, against upstate schools. When the Falcons take on a formidable Round Rock outfit in the regional semis next week, perhaps most of us will be hoping they can carry the Valley banner onward.

Although if it’s not too much to ask, could one blithering and cowardly buffoon of a Falcon supporter, He Who Must Not Be Named, be visited by a series of untimely flat tires on the way to wherever the next game is set to be played? Or perhaps by a raging case of dysentery … retroactive justice, so to say.

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