April 3, 2022
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
After the baseball game was over Friday night, the Montanos were there at the gate, as they have faithfully been for many seasons, waiting for their son to come out from the dugout at Econ. Justin? No, not him … Frankie? Nah, not him this time. Was it LeeRoy or Marco … not them … not brothers, primo.
This time, in 2022, it was Noah Montano, who had just put in a taxing night of quality toil for the Jags, reaching the 110-pitch count late in the affair and knocking out a base hit at the plate.
The latest of a long line of Montanos to toe the diamond out east, the third bro, he’s done well for Coach Rigo Sanchez’ battling ball club, and despite the team having lost a slugfest, 12-7, everyone was OK. The newest Montano brother has now joined a list of fine family horsehide performers, following two older brothers along with two cousins. Justin was a terrific pitcher back in the day who now manages the ranch of former Major Leaguer Josh Beckett, while Frankie was good enough to play three years of college ball before getting his degree. The cousins, LeeRoy and Marco – especially the latter – were known for their outstanding personalities aside from more than credible play. Now Noah, who was a calm presence on the mound and at the plate against the Cougars.
After a very long and winding road of a game, the Montanos waited. They’re experts at that. Anything for family, and that is the Econ Way.
In fact, there have been numerous sibling acts dating back to the school’s birth in 2000, including the Richardson and Iglesias/Hampton groups in basketball, track, and football; the fabulous trio of Browns (note: never miss a chance to reference the sublime Leigha Brown, no matter what); and three softball Sisters Gonzalez, magically christened Destiny, Faith, and Hope. There have plenty of Garzas in boys’ soccer (Misael and Co.), a couple of Gomez boys in football (Boxer, for example) and a handful of Medellins in multiple sports.
History also records many other creative amalgamations of birthright, such as parent-child (Albert Guerra and son David in baseball, circa 2013, plus the latest in soccer coach Robert Garcia and multi-sport daughter Dianett) and parent coach/son coach (Albert Rios, the OG Orange hoops coach, succeeded by son, Lalo).
Continuity, calendars, familiarity and pride. Sports is at best case, family, and for some families, sports = life.
Still, perhaps the greatest Econ lineage is that of the fabled Barrientos Clan, whose plentiful offspring have liberally peppered the rosters of athletic teams for the school for more than a decade. But the Montanos have to rate high on a list of First Families of Econ sports, that much is obvious.
A NIGHT OF ADVENTURE
As to the game Friday, it was a raucous bout featuring two teams searching for identity as the season wears on, as both North and Econ has been shuttling along near the bottom of the 31-6A standings. But despite the fact that the rivals – taking part in their 30th collision since 2007 – had combined for just three league wins, they combated an interesting, topsy turvy ball game.
North blasted in front, 4-0 through a bevy of unearned runs in the first inning, on a night when the Jags committed eight errors in the field but still almost triumphed. Econ rallied for three in the second, but only after North had taken a commanding 6-0 advantage.
Sanchez’ crew, down 7-3 heading into the bottom of the fifth, zoomed into gear for four tallies to knot the proceedings at 7, only to see the Coogs surge ahead with five runs in the final two frames to cap a crazy ride during which the teams collected 24 hits and scored way more runs than they usually do in a week’s time or two.
The Jags were particularly fecund after having been held to one run or less in seven separate outings, shut out in five. Three Jags had two of the team’s total of 11 hits, and the bottom of the order was on fire, four hits and five RBI coming from the last three on the list. Looming first baseman Erik Cano and center fielder Justin Trevino were at the center of the fifth inning attack, the former lacing a bases-loaded hit and the latter following with a ringing triple.
In the end, North got through, banging out 13 hits, getting another valiant relief appearance on the mound from Gil Hinojosa, and enjoying multi-hit nights from sophomore shortstop Jovan Bernal and junior catcher Juan Palacios (three each) along with soph Miguel Martinez and senior Hinojosa (two each).
Coach Rick Valdez saw his club get up big, falter midway through, but finish strong to rise to 3-6 in district, to 1-8 for the Jags of Sanchez, who has seen almost every mix of family members in sports at the school, first as a player in the early 2000s and now as the dean of city baseball coaches with about a decade of service at the helm.
Sometimes one watches top teams in a boring, thrill-less match, and sometimes, the so-called lesser grebes come through with compelling and enriching entertainment. You just never know, and that is why we go to the games, religiously.
Historically, North has dominated the series between the two, winning 26 times against three defeats since 2007, before Friday’s win. Econ clipped the Coogs in 2011 out east, 6-5, with Justin Montano front and center. The Coogs then won 12 in a row against the Jags, although the 2016 battle was monumental, a 12-10 verdict in 11 innings.
The great Ismael Lopez went 4 for 6 in that one for the Orange and would win city MVP honors the following season. Gerardo de Leon was amazing on the mound in relief, while P.J. Juarez had three hits for Econ, which led 8-6 only to see North rally to tie it in the ninth and eventually come out on top as Frankie Rivas (4 for 6), Jose Salinas (three hits, three RBI) and Saul Garza (double and a triple) combined with Carlo Servin (eight K’s in relief) to end a marathon: combined, the rivals cracked 30 hits and coaxed 14 walks.
That was almost as nutty as the 2013 encounter where again Econ was ahead, 4-2, until a late rush from the Coogs at home. North won that one, 5-4 in eight frames as Matt Ramirez (!) got three hits and stole three bases, the massive and intimidating David Anzaldua coming on to fan nine in five innings of chunking.
Going further back, the 2010 match is one best forgotten by Orange faithful, as North set a series record with 23 runs in a whitewashing. Former Jag Mark Esquivel was now with the Coogs, and he produced four RBI on a 3-for-3 showing, adding insult to injury with a 1-hitter, six K’s.
Edgar Cordon, later to transfer to EHS, scored four runs that night and he is still part of the answer to a trivia question: how many kids have ever managed to go yard in the endless, cavernous field at Econ? He is one, and the other, as memory serves, is Javi Sanchez, the burly strongman who won an extra-inning classic at Jags back in 2007 or 2008 (cannot recall, but not against North) with a mammoth tater to center field that must have traveled well over 400 feet and probably dislodged a gaggle of exotic birds from their slumber on its flight to the hinterlands.
Back to the present, more or less, as in 2021, Econ fought for a 2-1 victory over North, with a whole bunch of new faces aiding the effort. The Jags had also claimed a result over North in 2018, scoring 10 runs to tie their best output since 2007 against the Coogs, duplicating the number in the previously mentioned 2016 clash.
Thus, in 29 games heading into Friday, North had averaged 9.4 runs per game, to 2.5 for the Jags. This one would be closer, to say the least.
UPS AND DOWNS ALL AROUND
It did not start well for Sanchez and Econ, as a pop foul dropped free in the North first and the club made two errors. Center fielder Armani Acevedo singled in a run with a high bouncer and senior Andy Carranza slammed a ball into the gap, clearing the bases for a 4-0 lead. As former North coach Nick Cantu, along with his marvelous father Nick Sr. – also a mentor of much renown – watched, the Coogs were off and running.
The home side got a runner to second in the person of Dalys Hernandez, the high honors student who also made The Shot earlier this season in basketball against Vela, but Bernal gloved a soft liner off the bat of Montano to end the threat.
Righthander Joel Limon was sharp on the hill early on but ran into trouble in the second. North had added to its margin in its half of the inning after two more Jag errors and another opposite field base hit from Bernal. At the plate in the second, though, the Orange emerged, with leadoff man Jose Perez (freshman) getting a hit and soon the Jag bench was yelling, after a very high pitch, to “leave the birds alone,” adding some truly convincing caws. The low pitch will call for the kids to giggle. “Leave the birds alone … what did they ever do to you?” Tradition.
At any rate, after senior catcher Christian Moralez walked, up came senior Jose Luna, who blooped a perfect bunt for a hit, and the bases were loaded, no outs. Here North came up with a vital play, executing a 5-2-3 double play and slowing the Jag momentum. Trevino then thumped a single for two runs to narrow the gap, and Hernandez plated him with a single, but the moment had passed with less damage than might have been attained.
Montano then set the Coogs down in the third and fourth, overcoming two more fielding errors in the latter frame, and the Jags were still in it, down 6-3.
Econ had threatened in the third as junior infielder Sean Hernandez slapped a hit, leading to the relief of Limon by Hinojosa. Perez reached on another hit but two successive batters fanned against Hinojosa, though Luna came close on a hard shot to left that fell inches foul.
After Montano struck out a pair of North batters in the fourth to work around his team’s fielding woes, the Coogs got a single run in the fifth after three straight two-out singles from Palacios, Hinojosa, and Bernal. Montano gritted up to toss a key strikeout and end the rally.
The Orange got busy in its half of the fifth, loading the sacks with one out before Cano clouted a long single to send two runs in. Another came from a wild pickoff attempt, senior Brandon Elizondo whizzing across the plate to make it 7-6. Then Trevino produced a gigantic triple to tie it, and during the interchange into the sixth, Econ’s manager exhorted his guys.
“Hustle out, hustle out!” Sanchez bellowed. “Gotta want it!”
They wanted it, alright, as Cano made a sweet scoop of a low throw from the infield to record an out. But then Martinez launched a booming triple to right center, whereupon the gutty Montano exited, having tapped out at 110 pitches. We understand the reasoning behind the rule, safety and all that, but one imagines that Montano, still firing at full tilt, definitely did not want to go. He was relieved by senior Ulises Martinez, who held his own though senior Jaime Gonzalez gave North back the lead with an RBI bounce-out. With two down and runners at the corners, the Coogs did the deed as Palacios skied a high drive that fell in for a double, making the score 10-7.
Down to crunch time, the Jags attempted to re-rally, as Montano reached on a tricky pop with two outs that North botched. He went to third after an errant pickoff throw but the surge subsided as Hinojosa induced an infield grounder to end the inning.
With the mojo on their side, the Old Gold added two markers in the seventh on a Bernal single and steal, yet another Jag miscue, and a grounder from Gonzalez. Martinez, now catching with Hernandez on the bump, threw out a runner trying to steal and up came the Jags for their final swings.
It was over fast, as North retired the foe 1-2-3 in the seventh, but another rousing barnburner between city rivals had given the fans plenty to cheer about on both sides of the diamond.
North’s Valdez praised the resilience of his group, saying that they are starting to reap the benefits of the teachings. Mental toughness, win the next pitch, stay alert.
“Anybody can beat anybody in this district,” he said. “The kids were competing tonight, and we got some breaks for once. We tell them they can win an at-bat by losing, such as moving the runner over with groundout. Tonight we executed, got some bunts down, did some hit-and-run. They are working hard, and we see that, so we’re very proud of them.”
Sanchez too was happy with the way his guys dug in and pounded.
“Almost, man, almost,” he sighed, wearily. “The kids played well and we’re proud of them, we saw a lot of fight tonight, the whole game. Montano pitched with confidence and they all fed off that. We got a lot of good things from everyone, tonight the kids were hungry to come out and play some good baseball.”
Past 10 p.m. now, and a few Econ softball girls loitered outside the fence, their night’s work done as well. The baseball kids gathered their gear and headed out, and at the fence, there they were, the constant presence.
As the Montanos waited for the latest hero, they smiled, speaking of past sons, their exploits on and off the field. When asked if there were perhaps more Montanos to come, after the 11th-grader Noah has completed his career, they demurred.
“No, that’s it,” said he. “But we’ll be back for more next season, at least.” And that is the story, one of history and lineage, continuity by the generation, precious memories of the past and present, and more moments waiting in the wings out east.