Watch the Lady Jags take infield these days and it’s clear: this is a team that is close to really taking off, one that seems to get sharper and gain bits of confidence by the week.

With a 5-7 record heading into District 31-5A play last week, the underclassmen-dominated group was working at a way better clip than 2009, when it won seven games all year. And Lonnie Garza’s second squad is light-years ahead of the 2008 season, when it was a dismal 1-25.

Now that the program has all its girls back from basketball, the feeling is that with a little luck and continued toil, Econ could contend for a winning record in league and perhaps sneak into the playoffs.

The infield defense still has its moments, but for the most part, the quartet is making some of the routine plays that were usually ill-fated adventures in the past, for a program that has been a cellar-dweller for some time.

With hard-hitting third baseman Rachel Rodriguez (.407 average) leading the charge, the Lady Jags started fast with a 3-0-1 scrimmage slate. Senior Val Perez, one of two 12th-graders on the roster, is a solid shortstop, while Sam Benavides, also the second pitcher behind team standout Kayla Silva, brings a wealth of club experience to second base. Krystal Rodriguez and Gina Hernandez round out the inner garden at first.

“We never had the summer and winter teams like other schools, but last year we started it up and I think we can already see the improvement,” said Garza, who drills the girls with fundamentals constantly.

Sophomore Rodriguez, the little sister of former all-sport star Roxy Rodriguez, is a definite prospect, as is catcher Maddy Rendon, a freshman with good baseball skills and knowledge of the game. As the Econ kids take part in club softball on a more regular basis lately, Garza hopes that they will begin to learn the inner diamond workings.

“Many of them have played the game, but they don’t really know the game,” he explained. “They are getting experience, but still sometimes we don’t know what to do with the ball when it comes. We have to make that knowledge into a reaction on the field, where we don’t have to think about what to do…we just know.”

The outfield is slowly coming around, with rangy Leah Lopez along with Yvette Garza and Bobbi Medrano, who is hitting well this season along with hoops veteran Garza (.391), a pleasant surprise according to the coach.

One thing the Lady Jags can count on is top-flight performance from Silva, the junior hurler who has 53 strikeouts this season and leads the team with 12 stolen bases; she’s banging away at a .360 clip during her junior campaign.

With Rodriguez scooping up everything in sight (she’s a vacuum, Garza says) the Lady Jags hope that the league slate, which began with a match against Pharr North Tuesday, will be a successful one. The big barometer on how far the Orange has advanced comes during Spring Break, with matches against North and EHS.

Right now the kids are working on delivering in the clutch. At the recent BISD Tourney they started strong but ran into problems on the final day, leaving too many runners in scoring position for two late losses.

“We did well early on this year, and that’s good, but I told the girls that this was against PI, Hidalgo, and that we were going to be seeing way tougher pitching in District 31-5A,” Garza noted. “So I would say that the girls are in pretty good spirits so far…if I am not yelling at them, that is!”

NOTES: The Lady Jags made a good effort in the opener, losing just 1-0 to perennial power Pharr North, while the baseball Jags also went down by one, 9-8 to the Raiders. Access the Review Web site to see some bonus photos from the baseball game against Harlingen South, played Thursday in the Harlingen Tournament.