April 13, 2022
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
Count the Bobcats as one town baseball team that will not be weeping when the SaberCats fly the coop next year down to Class 5A, separating them from the other three locals for at least two seasons. Because if it weren’t for Vela, Coach Toby Gonzalez’ EHS crew might be higher than fifth right now in the District 31-6A standings.
The ‘Cats dropped to 6-6 for the season after a 15-3 drubbing Tuesday at the hands of the Sabes, now 9-3 and in second place behind unbeaten P-SJ-A – those latter two face off Thursday. In two bouts against their rivals this season, the ‘Cats have surrendered 34 runs; in 10 other league games, they allowed a total of just 42. Decisive.
And to add insult to injury, Vela has now won 10 straight over EHS, after the Old Cats took the first six showdowns starting in 2013.
But Tuesday’s loss was closer than it might appear simply from the final scoreboard. Truly, Vela did what Vela does, which is crash the ball and score. Coach Jaime Perez’ gang averages 10 runs per game in district and has defeated five town foes (Econ still to come in round two) by the absurd margin of 75-5. They’ve now won seven straight in the league.
However, this was actually a hotly contested, narrow-run thing into the final stages, as the ‘Cats plated three runs in the second to go ahead, 3-2, were tied at 3 by the fifth, and fell behind only 5-3 heading into the final frame at home. Then, though, the Sabes went stone galactic, sending 15 hitters to the dish and collecting eight hits, recording 10 runs to ferment the final tally of 15. Combined with a 19-2 demolition of EHS back on March 14, when the Blue and Black put a 10-spot up in the third inning and added seven more in the fourth, Perez’ ball-battering boys have made it hard for EHS to stay in the race.
Luckily for Gonzalez and Co., North came up with a fine victory Tuesday, beating Pharr North and dropping the Raiders to 5-6; EHS and the Raiders collide Thursday with each holding onto scant hopes of making the postseason. After P-SJ-A and Vela come La Joya and Mission in the standings. EHS defeated Mission last week but against the Sabes, it all collapsed down the stretch.
Until the gigantic inning, EHS had battled against Vela righty David White but could not gain much leverage beyond the one inning of production. On the way to his best outing of the season, the rangy White got stronger as the night wore on, baffling the ‘Cats with a wicked slider and holding them to just three hits – all in the second inning – to pick up a vital Dub for his school.
“I worked on the pitch a lot in the summer and it’s coming around now,” said White, who improved to 6-2 for the season, with 39 strikeouts in 36 innings. “When I can get it to land, it helps me tunnel my fastball better.”
White notes that the slider is a pretty popular pitch right now, and Tuesday he worked against EHS ace Darren Barrera, who was tossing his share of them as well.
“It breaks sharper, and it gives the hitter less time to adjust, unlike the curveball, which floats sometimes,” White explained. “Early in the game tonight I couldn’t land it, but I just stopped thinking about it and started throwing. Sometimes, that’s what you have to do. As the game went on, I picked it up, the slider was biting hard, and I felt like even my velocity went up a little. I was dialed in, and I could feel it.”
After the first, lopsided meeting of rivals, EHS was determined to make a game of it this time, and with the hard-throwing Barrera on the hill, this seemed like a reasonable goal. He’d fanned 83 batters in just 45 innings coming in and would retire eight more in like manner Tuesday before exiting in the fifth.
Vela struck first in the top of the second as a walk and an opposite-field single from junior Ryan Botello – leading the team in RBI in 2022 – got the ball rolling. Third baseman David Pena then slammed a 2-run triple, one of four three-baggers the Sabes were destined to smack on Tuesday.
After going 1-2-3 in the first, the ’Cats answered with a three-spot in the second as sophomore Andel Saenz and junior Leo Reyes singled, two Vela errors helping the effort. Soph Jacob Garcia bounced a single up the middle to give his club a 3-2 advantage, but that was all the offense EHS would muster; Vela turned a double play to get out of the jam and over the next five innings, White was masterful, keeping the ‘Cats hitless, walking two and fanning four.
Down 3-2, Vela threatened again in the fourth as the lefty Botello again shot a single to left field to lead off. After Bobby Garcia bunted him over, Barrera contained the moment with a pair of K’s.
Perez’ team tied it in the fifth after sophomore A. J. Reyes – a speedy shortstop who leads the team in runs scored – doubled and eventually scored on a wild pitch. But again, Barrera kept his squad alive by striking out two Sabes.
The visitor went ahead in the sixth with a one-out pinch single from sophomore Luke Esparza, who homered last week in a 16-0 victory over North, and soon yet another sophomore, second baseman Jayden Martinez, delivered the big blow, a double into the gap to drive in two. Perez has ridden with several underclassmen this season out of necessity, but he says that the youngsters have been steadily more confident – and productive – after the expected early season wobbles.
The Sabes have proven themselves adept in blowouts but also the close ones, as three recent wins illustrate: they have beaten Mission 9-8; Pharr North 3-1; and La Joya 4-3 in the past three weeks to launch into the title race. Earlier in the season, the club dropped one-run decisions to the Raiders and Bears, and a 2-run result to La Joya. Collectively, this team is getting stronger by the game, like White the hurler on Tuesday.
In 31-6A play, Vela has now scored at least eight runs in nine of 12 contests.
In the seventh, up 5-3, the Sabes mercilessly blasted away as EHS died on the vine. Botello (3 for 4), Garcia, and senior Nolan Salinas each cracked triples, Salinas hammering his with the bases loaded. It was a run parade, plain and simple. And it was a disappointing ending for the ‘Cats, who had held out hopes for the upset until late in the evening. Late entry Esparza went 3 for 3 and enjoyed the rare feat of hitting safely twice in the same inning, as did Garcia.
One of the keys to the result was Vela’s knack for grinding long in the count against Barrera and three Bobcat relief pitchers.
“They did exactly what we told them to do, which was chew away, work deep into the count, have patience at the plate,” Perez said. “When you’re facing a hard thrower, you have to do that. Chew ‘em up, make them work and try to get them out of there by the pitch count. Then the KO.”
As to the performance of his starting, and winning, pitcher, the coach was full of praise.
“He was hitting 87, 88 early, and then we had some long innings,” Perez said. “He showed a lot of fortitude tonight, used his leg strength and gave us a great job out there. He threw his tail off! And like I said, at the plate, we barreled some baseballs up, after we showed patience and worked some counts. I think I am seeing more savvy out there, including the sophomores, the baseball IQ that wins you games.”
In the beginning, as they say, the Bobcats held the upper hand against the upstart Sabes. The first time the two met came March 8, 2013, with EHS star Jaime Alvarado going 3 for 4, Scott Theriault driving in four with a 4-for-4 night, and Michael Harrison striking out six on the mound and knocking two hits in a 10-3 victory. The rematch that season saw the ‘Cats prevail, 4-3 in eight innings, starting a penchant for comebacks in the series. Harrison fanned 10 in that one.
The next season, 2014, saw another extra-inning classic, as the ‘Cats trailed 3-2 after five before tying it in the seventh and topping the Sabes with two in the eighth. EHS stole six bases that night and fireballing righty John Henry Gonzalez struck out nine. A month later, Vela was ahead 2-0 before EHS surged ahead for a 5-2 win.
With Vela having moved down to 5A for the 2015 and 2016 seasons, the teams played once each year, in tournaments. EHS won in 2015 with two runs in the sixth, and the next season, blasted the Blue and Black 11-2 behind five RBI from Daniel Solis and eight K’s from John Henry.
The worm turned in 2017 as Vela earned its first ever win against the Red and Blue in smashing fashion March 16. It was a wild one as Vela went ahead 7-0 early, only to see the ‘Cats roar back to tie it with seven in the second. Ramsey Amador started a run of devastating performances against the Original Cats with six RBI, while R.J. Ochoa sent four runners in to score. It was 10-10 at one point as Mateo Gonzalez and Jaime Cansino combined for 5 RBI to lead the Bobcats, and together, the teams whiffed at the plate a mighty 27 times, Vela winning 14-10 in a 9-inning marathon.
In 2018 the signature night came when Vela obliterated its rival, 19-2, behind infielder Yuli Torrellas, who went 3 for 4 with a triple and two steals, and Amador, who whipped up two home runs for six RBI again. Nico Rodriguez was the pitching star in the rout, with 10 K’s.
The next campaign, it was Isaac Lopez at the fore with three RBI, and the Sabes sprinted to eight steals for an 11-0 win, Rodriguez fanning 11. Lopez, by the way, has been a steady producer lately (2022) for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
In 2021, A.J. Sotelo hurled a 1-hitter at the ‘Cats in March and in the return affair, Diego Cortez went 3 for 4 and drive in four.