March 19, 2022
By Greg Selber
As the athletes compete on the diamond this spring, their goals are numerous. One is to help the team vie for collective honors such as a district title and/or a playoff spot. Another is to do well enough individually, statistically, to earn all-district selection or more. And yet another goal – perhaps the ultimate one for some – is to attain the right to keep competing at the next level, in college softball or baseball.
A handful of current seniors, including rocket-armed Sam Saenz of EHS and teammate Alynna Garza, have already locked up slots on a college roster, and indeed the trend these days to is to go through the major recruiting process as a junior and obtain a chance – and have the signing ceremony – before the senior season even begins. A few more of the city’s best soon-to-be graduates might just be able to land an opportunity relatively late in the game, so to say.
At any rate, it’s always interesting to see who will go on to continue their athletic career beyond high school, because the fact is, decidedly few are able to do so.
For every Saul Garza, there are hundreds of players who were solid high school performers who either chose not to go for it or were unable to do so. Garza, the ex North catcher who was drafted twice by Major League teams and played for two minor league outfits last season after a two-year stint at LSU, is one of the most successful recent graduates, perhaps the best.
But there are many other city kids who have gone on to a measure of greater glory. Garza’s former Cougar teammate Carlo Servin has been one of the most successful, for sure.
Now a senior at Texas A&M-Kingsville, the strapping infielder has been one the Javelinas’ most valuable players for four-plus seasons, compiling a .326 career batting average with 131 RBI and 14 home runs. Servin has made All-Lone Star Conference twice; in 2019 he hit a robust .367, and in 2021 he batted .337. This season Servin is at .295 for the Hoggies, playing often at first base, occasionally on the other side of the infield. Former Vela star Ramsey Amador has started 22 times for Kingsville this season at third base.
Then there’s Jaime “Mito” Perez Jr. of Vela fame, now catching for Tarleton State in Stephenville. The all-purpose athlete banged out two hits Friday in a WAC home game against UTRGV and his father, Vela coach Jaime Perez, said that the son – who had two hits in each in his last four games heading into the weekend – has fought his way into the lineup as a freshman.
A former teammate of Perez, A.J. Sotelo, is on the roster at Incarnate Word in San Antonio, though he is still recovering from shoulder surgery and hoping to get back into action at some future point. The program faced off with the University of Texas in a recent series. Nico Rodriguez, Sotelo’s teammate – in football as well as baseball – is plying his trade in the Big 12 for Kansas State. This season the relief pitcher has appeared in four games, including against Arizona, and has six strikeouts in four innings.
At UTRGV, two Vela grads are in the mix, catcher R.J. Ochoa and infielder Isaac Lopez. Ochoa hit .287 with five homers last season for the Vaqueros but has been limited to just 18 at-bats so far in 2022. EHS senior Darren Barrera, a hard-throwing righthander and a power-hitting first baseman, is expected to join the UTRGV program after he graduates in June.
Edinburg has always been known as a producer of softball talent for the next level, and there are several ex city girls now doing their diamond thing in college.
One of the most productive has been former North star Jackie Longoria, who has carved out a fine career at The University of Houston-Victoria. The gutty little hustler enjoyed terrific seasons in 2018 (.313 average) and 2019 (.407, six pitching wins) and rebounded from a difficult 2020 to hit .280 last season. She is wrapping up her college career at Victoria in 2022, as a teammate of former North and EHS standout Seci Lopez, who transferred from McClennan CC in Waco.
Those two were part of a Golden Era in city softball in the recent past and many of their teammates and competitors are still playing the game.
Kristee Salas, of EHS chops, started at Kingsville and is now at Our Lady of the Lake in San Antonio. The hard-nosed infielder homered against Midland College in February and leads the team in walks so far this season.
North product Vanessa Garces has also moved around a bit, trying to find the right fit. She began at Coastal Bend College in Beeville, where she hit a strong .360 in 2019, and .342 in 2020. Now at Texas A&M-San Antonio, the former shortstop has moved to the outfield and has batted 28 times in the new season. Her teammates include a pair of Vela exes, utility star Kameryn Casares and freshman Karina Guzman. Guzman has started well at the college level, earning a steady spot in the lineup, hitting .286 in 56 at-bats; she’s also hurled 23 innings for a 2.78 ERA.
For years, North was the gold standard for producing college talent, including catcher Melina Sanchez and first baseman Sammy Cordon, both of whom fashioned excellent post-HS careers in softball.
Vela has been fecund as of late, with dynamic Monie Montilla at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and athletic Destine Garcia at Huston-Tillotson; both are freshmen. The coach at HT, by the way, is ex Econ infielder Roxy Rodriguez, who is in her ninth season at the helm and has consistently recruited locals to bolster her squad. Former North catcher Hope Rodriguez was a signee of hers, in 2020. Back in the day, EHS powerpack Tori De Leon starred for the Austin-based program.
Another Lady SaberCat alum, Julio Cordon, is playing for Incarnate Word, and she has driven in five runs, with a home run, this season for the Cardinals.
One kid who played for Vela and EHS as well, Katy Truitt, is on the squad at North Texas in Denton and has battled a series of injuries so far in college, while infielder Maya Zavala, EHS ex, started at Texas State and moved to Nicholls State to play.
Another EHS/North ace, Naomi “Monie” Reyes is in her senior season at Texas Southern. Last year she went 10-9 with 125 K’s in 121 innings, and in 2022 Reyes has 27 K’s in 36 innings.
Last year’s city MVP, Annabel Segoviano of North, has caught on well with Temple College, where she’s smacked .458 with 14 RBI and five steals during her freshman season. Another ex MVP, Erika Cortez of EHS note, has landed at Texas A&M-International in Laredo.
And do not forget Nat Rodriguez, who competed for both sides of the Grudge Match, EHS and North, in high school. Not at the same time, of course. She’s killing it at Kingsville right now, and last year hit .336 with 33 RBI, setting a program record with eight RBI in a game, and slamming a home run in the NCAA Tournament. In 2022, the junior is at .320 with four homers and 18 RBI and banged two out of the park against Ouachita Baptist. Quite a fine readout of the city’s best, athletes who have made the diamond grade to compete at the next level, though it is not an exhaustive list.