She knows that this will be the toughest series of her softball life, and that against a very salty, playoff-tested San Benito team, her Lady Bobcats will have a distinct disadvantage in terms of big-game experience. But color Sarina Rios totally confident heading into the regional quarterfinal series against the Lady Greyhounds that starts Friday night on the road.

The slugging first baseman can count on some definite advantages in her squad’s favor. The Lady ‘Cats aren’t 28-3 by accident, with a balanced offense, solid defense, and two great freshman pitchers. But the secret weapon to the program’s best season ever? Support.

Rios notes that the parents of the girls are probably more excited about the third-round playoff series than anyone else. And she counts her mom, Sylvia, as number one in that category.

“The last couple of series she has been totally anxious, nervous,” said Rios Wednesday, after a preparatory workout. “And I’m like, ‘Mom! You’re not even playing!’ But that’s the way it is, the moms are everywhere, they are totally behind us and it means a lot to everyone on the team. My mom grew up without sports so now she’s embraced it 100 percent, it’s kind of funny.”

The senior star also says that without the dads, this year would not have been nearly as fun or rewarding, including her pop, Mario.

“They are always there for us,” she enthused. “And you know, the dads on this team are everyone’s dads, they root for us all and like with the moms, it is very appreciated.”

Edinburg has churned through Weslaco and Rio Grande City on the way to facing San Benito, a perennial playoff power with a quartet of great seniors. But add in the Secret Secret Weapon, and Rios thinks that EHS is in good shape. Coaches Jesse Banda and Sonny Villarreal are diamond veterans who know what they’re doing and are sticklers for detail. And they’ve received a bonus this season in the person of principal Dan Roma, who has become the “support coach” with his terrific enthusiasm and fire.

“Hey we should be called the Romas, not even the Bobcats,” Rios giggled when opining about the effusive, upbeat administrator who has basically adopted the softball team in 2010. “We are so lucky to have him out there every game, I mean, he is always buying us seeds, Gatorade, whatever. He keeps us fired up and laughing all the time, always telling us stories… He loves us so much and we really appreciate him being there. He’s even missed the boys’ games to come to ours! We call him Coach Roma and we’re not kidding. He means a lot to us.”

THE FIGHT AHEAD

It is definitely a banner year for Edinburg softball, as the team has advanced to what amounts to a Valley Final Four, with Brownsville Porter taking on Harlingen South in the other regional quarter match. With the awesome phalanx of rooters providing unbowed backing, the Lady ‘Cats are truly blessed in that regard. But Rios also understands that once the fanfare has subsided, it’s going to be up to the girls to perform.

“You know, none of us came into the year with any playoff experience,” admitted Rios, who has three home runs and an average near .350 this season for a squad in its first postseason run in five years. “That is going to be a disadvantage in a way, because San Benito has been here before. We just have to come out and continue what we’ve been doing.”

Rios points to a midseason loss at home to Edinburg North as one of the turning points. After a 17-1 start, EHS lost to South 1-0 and then the Lady Coogs, 6-5, and the first baseman thinks that the gals were too tight.

“Since then we have come into games more loose and controlled, letting our talent take over and not thinking so much,” she explained. “We know we have the talent to be at this level, so now we just have to take care of business.”

Against the Valley’s best pitcher, senior Joann Herrera, taking care of business will be a tricky wicket. Herrera boosted her 24-5 club into the third round by pitching back-to-back shutouts last Saturday against San Antonio Southwest, erasing a one-game deficit and setting up what has become a widely and wildly anticipated RGV clash this weekend. Now she has her sights set on the Lady ‘Cats, and Rios for one is familiar with the obstacle that lies ahead.

“I played with her during the summer and let me tell you, she can throw hard,” said Rios of the Lady ‘Hound leader. “She also keeps you off balance and guessing, she’s tough to figure out.”

The game plan calls for getting on base and then bunting and running, items the team has worked on all week to get ready for the three-game set, which continues Saturday at noon at EHS.

“We also have to be ready to play defense against the bunt, because they are fast and they will bunt the ball,” she added, noting that in her view, we’re looking at a maximum of three runs a game from either team. Execution in the clutch will pay off; anything short of flawless ball, and it’s curtains for 2010.

“We hope we are prepared enough, I don’t think we can be any more ready,” Rios suggested. “It’s so fun to go out there and play in big pressure games with a lot of people in the stands. A couple of years ago, we couldn’t even fill the bleachers halfway, but now, you’d better get there early Saturday, that’s all I have to say.”

They will stream down to San Benito in packs Friday, the parent group and assorted members of the rabid fan base. And then they’ll stack the home stands over the weekend to try and help their beloved diamond dolls over the most formidable mountain in program history. With a pair of wins against San Benito, EHS would hit the 30-victory mark and head to the Sweet 16, something that has never been done in school annals.

But first, the third-round challenge, and the Romas, or Lady Bobcats, advance into battle with a support crew that’s out of this world. Win or lose (and they plan on winning) the girls are proud of what they’ve done so far, and have the cheers and the boost from behind to keep them rolling along the road of dreams.