April 14, 2022
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
It will be a perilous journey fraught with danger and risk, but one promising much glory. The quest began well enough Thursday for the Lady Cougars.
Faced with a challenge to win-out, go 3-0 to close the 31-6A softball season, or face the probability of missing the playoffs for the first time since the Stone Age, North came up with a phenomenal display of hitting to clout EHS out of the path, 19-8, on the road.
That victory, guaranteed by 19 hits – 15 of which were singles – and an astonishing total of 10 errors by the Lady Bobcats, raised the Old Gold record to 7-7 with two games left. Meanwhile, P-SJ-A, the team the Lady Coogs are pursuing for the fourth playoff spot, was beaten by La Joya to fall to 8-6. Thus turn of events basically makes Tuesday’s clash between North and the Lady Bears into must-see theater, because the Lady Coogs finish with woeful and winless Juarez-Lincoln. Provided that 5-10 EHS cannot then render aid to a rival by upsetting Pharr, it’s looking like a coin flip, play-in game, or make-up tutorial tournament, or whatever the district deems proper in this case. Bet on the play-in.
The program streak of playoff appearances, now more than 20 years long, discounting the discounted 2020 COVID campaign, is on the edge, and North played like it Thursday in the Grudge Match, Act 2.
Up 1-0 through three, Coach Richard Tressler’s bunch then rang up six runs in the fourth to take command, withstood seven runs from the Lady ‘Cats down the path, and clinched the victory with a barrage of base hits good for 12 runs from the fourth through the seventh frames.
The striking thing about the offensive masterclass was its balance. It’s no secret that senior Kaylee O’Bryan and junior Joliana Mancha have been the twin bulwarks of the attack in 2022, usually without terribly much accompaniment from the rest of the lineup. But with the pressure mounting against a rival determined to knock them out of the race, the Lady Coogs got at least one hit from all nine girls in the order, which is a rare feat indeed. And a much needed one in this case.
Ninth hitter Kyla Rodriguez, the freshman first baseman, collected three runs, two hits, and three RBI, while eighth-hole entry Jade “Money” Guerra had two hits and raced around to score thrice. Catcher Liana Urbano went 3 for 6, driving in four, and her courtesy runner, junior Sierra Hernandez, cruised in for three tallies.
One of the kids Tressler is counting on to be part of the nucleus for next season, junior second baseman Victoria Ramirez, knocked out three hits. She is tough and tiny, a carbon copy of former shortstop standout Jessica Diaz, and expect to see Ramirez slotted in at short next season in place of O’Bryan, the senior star who’s set to graduate soon.
It was a perfect time for such galvanizing group therapy, as though O’Bryan and Mancha had four hits and four RBI, they didn’t have to be the fulcrum, with players up and down the lineup putting the ball in play consistently.
The 19 runs marked a season high for the Lady Coogs, who tucked away the city softball crown by beating its three rivals twice each by a rousing aggregate score of 84-24. The snake in the woodpile for this local domination: of North’s seven wins in league play, none have come against schools with winning records. And this means that Tuesday’s rematch with P-SJ-A, which won the first-round bout between the two, 5-1 March 18, will have to be a groundbreaker.
They’ve wasted the rest. And now the Lady Coogs are going to have to come up with a great effort against a quality opponent to keep their playoff tradition alive.
There is no doubt that O’Bryan has fulfilled her destiny as a leader and performer over four fantastic seasons. Coming into Thursday’s game, her last against ancient nemesis EHS, O’Bryan was hitting a robust .507 for the season, with 37 hits, 30 runs, and 26 RBI. Over four seasons with the program, she’s batted .480 with an on-base average of .501. This was her 106th game for North and the two RBI she plated gave her 101. The swatting shortstop has collected 43 extra base hits, including a dozen home runs, and has now eclipsed 130 hits and 110 runs, lifetime.
Tressler says O’Bryan is among a number of outstanding multi-sport athletes he has seen and/or coached at North, as she was also a superb volleyball player. She has only gotten better with time, and that is not always the case. And he’s depended on her, and Mancha the pitcher with a strong bat, to carry the offense during a season when the team average is a slightly pedestrian .282. Thursday’s bumper crop of hits pushed the team clip up 12 points from .270.
“I told them that moving forward, if they can all contribute like they did against the Bobcats, we’ll be in good shape,” said Tressler Friday night. “We had some defensive lapses, and a few times we lost our focus a bit, but overall, I am proud of this team.”
The veteran coach also noted that since starting this gig in the late 1990s, he’s been through some tough seasons, but 2022 has been unique.
“We missed the playoffs my first year and then the next two, 1998 and 1999, we lost play-in games; we were close,” Tressler noted. “Other than that, we’ve been in every year, and we plan on getting in again this year. The thing is, we have athletic kids, but so many of them are behind, in terms of game experience. COVID really messed things up and I would say that there are a lot of girls who missed out on about 50 games a year. No junior high, less club or select, no freshman and little JV ball, there wasn’t a lot of repetition and game time for them, and it is something we’ve had to work to overcome.”
As he and the staff have double-timed it to get past these obstacles, the Lady Coogs have responded. Tressler says that center fielder Daniella “Dani” Pruneda has come on strong in the second half of district, as has infielder Ramirez. The lefty Pruneda has cracked away at .500 the past seven games while Ramirez has improved her average immensely since midway through the 31-6A slate.
“Plus, I think I finally have found the right lineup,” he said. “We moved some people around and it is starting to pay off. Last night I knew we had them when we started putting up crooked numbers in the middle innings, and I knew we wouldn’t let up. We had to have that win to set up a chance for us to make it.”
North went through a good workout Friday morning as Tressler drilled the kids on some things he thinks will make the difference against the Lady Bears, including going opp field with the outside pitch. “We’ll get back to work Monday and then be ready to play Tuesday,” he remarked. “It’s been hard this season; usually we climb the mountain early in the year and stay there, but this season we have taken longer to get there. And it’s been a case where we might get there to the summit one day and then have to do it all over again the next week. These girls, most of them are still feeling the effects of that lack of game experience over an extended time period. But I know for a fact that they are going to come out here Tuesday and go for it.”