PHARR - It looked grim here Tuesday night, with the Lady Bobcats down two games to none against an underdog Lady Raider team. This was not what they’d had in mind after a solid preseason and a win in the District 31-5A opener, but here it was. Do or die, on the road, with Pharr North feeling its oats big time.
Up to the plate, figuratively this time, stepped the softball girls, and along with a couple of trusted vets and some handy help off the bench, somehow EHS (14-5 overall) rose from the grave to outlast its foe in five grueling tries.
Torie DeLeon, in subconscious answer to the bump-bump music pulsating through the North gym, rocked to the beat before Game Five began. Nearby, super-subs Bri Detwiler and Dani Vela clapped their hands furiously, straining to be heard over the din, attempting to exhort their teammates to one last effort.
It all worked out for the Lady ‘Cats, who desperately needed to clinch a breakneck rally to avoid the upset heading into Saturday’s showdown with primeval rival Edinburg North. The tonic was a combination of imported talent and performances from some unsung heroes. The garish rap music seemed somehow to define the stylish aggression that had carried the girls to wins in games three and four.
That EHS was able to pull off the deal is a testament to the character of the talented, hodge-podge group that Coach Deanna Sanchez-Dominguez has cobbled together in 2010. It starts with star hitter Beckah Rodriguez, of course, but after that, it gets interesting. The team has gotten major contributions from a bevy of gals off the softball diamond, like juniors DeLeon and Anissa Gonzalez, plus sophomore sparkplug Myranda Hinojosa. Freshman infielder “Z” Borrego has also chipped in, lending a decidedly softbally look to the volley lineup for stretches at a time.
“Those girls really bring some competitive spirit to the game,” said Sanchez-Dominguez, who had noted before the year started that with the loss of three key starters from last year’s near-miss unit, the contribution of some holdovers along with new faces would have to be key. “We have a lot of girls who play multiple sports and they have helped. Tonight, I think the softballers were instrumental…they just hate to lose!”
One knows that DeLeon is going to compete to the last breath. She’s a tough out on the diamond and will run you over in the basepaths or at home plate. In volleyball she is learning the libero position as she goes, bringing grit and moxie to the mix. And she compliments double-teammate Hinojosa saying what everyone else says about her.
“She has a lot of ‘mole’ out there, you know…guts,” said DeLeon of the crafty, hustling setter. “And with Anisa, all I have to do is walk up behind her during the game and say, ‘Kill, Anissa, kill!’ and she does. We really work well together.”
It was not working well early on Tuesday, as EHS fell behind a scrappy North team, losing by three and then two. Both the mentor and her libero teased out their opinions about why the squad got out of the box like a ponderous pack of tired turtles.
“I was surprised at the slow start we had tonight,” admitted DeLeon, who can go down and get them like former libero Alyssa Perez, with great quickness. “Maybe we underestimated them, I don’t know. But sometimes it just happens, you want to come out and have a good effort but it’s just not there. Luckily we were able to get it together and pull through.”
Sanchez-Dominguez has nurtured this group all along the way, and she thinks that despite some inconsistency, it has what it takes to vie for a postseason berth.
“We had a lot of hitting errors tonight in the first two games,” she explained. “We had to make a lot of substitutions to try and find the right combinations. I feel like we can be a very good team at times.”
The coach singled out junior Detwiler, otherwise known as “The Girl in the Purple Dress” after her competition in the Miss Edinburg Pageant last month, for special praise.
“I was using Bri as an example this week, telling the girls that though sometimes she doesn’t get to play that much, she is always pushing it to the limit in practice, being first in line to run sprints…she came through for us today and that’s the kind of effort we need if we are going to be successful.”
Sanchez-Dominguez was also proud of Vela (10 kills), the rugged cross-country runner who has become more of an integral part of the rotation lately.
“She has really done a total turnaround these days,” she said. “Dani is not afraid to go in there and battle against bigger girls in the middle. Sometimes we have to dig deep on the bench and we need everyone ready to get in and do something positive. She has really done that for us.”
And as for DeLeon, her coach noted that one has to keep an eye on her, psychology-wise.
“She is such a tough competitor, sometimes she is hardest on herself,” Sanchez-Dominguez commented. “I have to stay on her and help, because she is a perfectionist who wants to make the perfect pass every time. I really admire these softball girls and the way they work and want to win.”
MAKING IT HAPPEN
In Game Three, when the Lady Bobcats had to win or go home, they got out to a smashing 8-1 lead with the well-muscled Gonzalez rising to score twice.
“Anissa is getting there, she can totally be the big hitter we are lacking,” said the coach. “She is learning to run through the hit, and to adjust when the ball is on the net.”
With Rodriguez playing her usual brand of excellent senior ball, the Lady ‘Cats kept that lead, extending to 16-6 after a Gonzalez block for a point and another ringing kill. Hinojosa passed perfectly from this point on as the sluggishness receded, to be replaced by precision work from back to frontline.
Pharr North rallied to tie things at 21 but then Hinojosa fed Gonzalez for a pounder and on the next sequence, DeLeon’s bloop serve fooled the Lady Raiders and fell in the middle of a pack of them for a 24-22 advantage. On the winning point, the visitors leapt for joy after they thought it was over, and had to re-leap on the same play after North saved the first loose ball but whiffed on the second.
Buoyed by momentum, EHS raced out to a 9-4 edge with Vela holding forth in the middle and Rodriguez (14 kills) slamming home two. Soon it was 16-6 again with Hinojosa finding open teammates with graceful, arching feeds and the Lady Raiders visibly struggling to keep pace. Vela and Detwiler combined for a block score and Rodriguez put it away, 25-13, with two spikes and a smart pushdown.
A Game Five is always a good lick, exciting because everyone knows that this is it.
The first four plays of the affair were of championship caliber, with Hinojosa having a hand in most of them. First she fed Gonzalez for a winner after having dived to save a North net-serve that trickled over. Next, Rodriguez sold out for a beautiful one-handed fist save wide right, which set up a Gonzalez hammer. Play Three saw one of Hinojosa’s patented trick-spin shots on the second hit, and to finish, DeLeon (47 digs) made two great digs leading to an eventual net winner.
From 4-0, though, the Lady ‘Cats were tied 6-6 and it became 9-8, EHS. Detwiler then proved to be a difference-maker; she carved one deep for a point from the mid-point, served for a winner once North hit out, and then scored on a burning sidewinder shot.
The Lady Raiders had tied it at 11-11 before that third gem from the lanky junior, but EHS took the match when Hinojosa finished two crazy rallies with side-winding slaps of her own.
Next up after this gut-check of a win was the first of two collisions with a Lady Cougar team that has been among the Valley’s best all season. With an EHS group that appears to believe it can go all the way, this was going to be one of those Rivalry Games again, madness in abundance.
NOTES: North swept P-SJ-A Memorial Tuesday to rise to 2-0, 14-3 for the year while Econ (1-1, 16-5) bounced back from an opening loss to Harlingen South with a 3-game win against P-SJ-A. Saturday North took out the ‘Lady Cats in four games at EHS.