McALLEN — If there was one variable the Bobcats needed to take care of this year to keep near the top of the heap, it was getting a strong senior season from Austin Casas.
EHS, winner of a program record 29 games last year, returned just three starters from that awesome squad, Casas, Bubba Anthony and Michael Kaz. Anthony has done his thing so far this season, slamming a couple of home runs and dominating on the mound. Kaz, who has hit .379 and .369 the past two campaigns, was injured but is now in full swing.
That leaves Casas, touted as a potential star for two years or more, and Monday, the strong-armed right-hander came through with an outstanding performance.
As Spring Break began, he beached McAllen Memorial on three hits, working out of trouble in the sixth to help his team to a 1-0 win, its 10th in 13 games. Casas has always had the arm, but control has been slow in coming. But in 2009 he is on fire, getting pitches over early and working in curves and sliders to perfection. Against Memorial, he breezed through the frames again, keeping hitters off balance and making it look easy.
He wrapped up the gem thanks to a well-timed double play after he walked two to start the sixth. Afterward, catcher “Spanky” Rodriguez noted that Casas is right where he needs to be.
“His curves and sliders were working today and it really helped us out,” Rodriguez said. “This summer he was struggling a little with his control but I was hoping he would come into the season and give us another quality starter along with Bubba. We need him to be there, and this season, he’s thrown real well.”
Faced with huge graduation losses from a year ago, the Bobcats were not picked among the Valley’s top clubs heading in, but they have performed like a team that is primed to defend a district title.
In the team’s first action in seven days to rainouts, the bats were a bit rusty against Memorial, but EHS squeezed out a run in the third when David Fasci walked with the bases loaded. That’s all Casas would need, as he blazed the fastball by the Mustangs and fooled them with breaking stuff. Except for the sixth, he was masterful.
“I just have to hit my spots and I will be effective,” said the senior pitcher/outfielder, who will play for The University of Texas-Pan American next year. “My velocity is a bit down but it will pick back up. I don’t know what happened in the sixth, I guess I just lost it a little. But I was able to get it back.”
New coach Robert Valdez, who has the ‘Cats looking sharp so far, is pleased with the progress his group has shown.
“We just have to stay within ourselves,” said Valdez, who coached Memorial before coming home to his alma mater. “We just need to get some base-runners and do our job to get them home. This program has a lot of tradition and the seniors don’t want to be the ones who don’t get a playoff spot.”
Valdez noted that Casas has been on all year long, as have most of the ‘Cats.
“We’re just focusing on each half inning, and winning that half, be it offense or defense,” he commented. “I know that we weren’t picked to be as good as we were last year, but I tell the guys not to worry about rankings. Heck, I would rather they not even read the newspaper. We just have to make the plays, one inning at a time.”
NOTES: The ‘Cats swamped Harlingen 9-1 Tuesday with lefty Anthony collecting a career-high 15 strikeouts.