McALLEN - It was one of those unrelenting Valley heat days, with the sun heavy as a coat and the wind beating you to death. Toss in McAllen's brutal sandstorm infield and the mound from Hell, and the whole deal had a desolate feel of desperation. Think Chihuahua, Mexico, maybe 1910 or so.
Against this backdrop, the Lady Bobcats, having dropped Game Two of their area round series against a solid McAllen group, was up against it: Win or else. With 30 minutes to go between tilts Saturday, which one of these units was going to be the toughest, mentally and physically?
Tough Torie de Leon, pouring copious amounts of water over her tiny fighter's head, set the tone, as usual. "Let's do it!" she yelled, and within seconds, the entire team was in a Soul Trainish circle near first base, jiving it up and laughing hilariously. They even got coaches Jesse Banda and Sonny Villarreal to "dance" from the periphery.
It was on...and it was over!
Edinburg cleaned house in Game Three, winning 6-0 as sophomore Sammy Arciba did not allow a hit until the sixth in a 2-hit masterpiece. After their defense had taken a hiatus in Game Two, to the tune of a 10-5 spanking, the Lady ‘Cats regrouped and showed why they are the Valley's No. 1 team.
Now it's off to the third round for the second year in a row, where the opponent will be a familiar foe, Harlingen South (22-10), which knocked off Eagle Pass last weekend in a mild upset.
De Leon, who homered in the first game Saturday, got two walks and a hit in the clincher, and played a steady third base throughout the series, was all smiles in a weary postgame celebration.
"We were in better shape, because we run every day," said the hard-charging junior. "It paid off for us. We knew we had ‘em, but we just had to play through that second game. They were dragging from the start and we weren't, we just picked each other up and that's what this team, this year, is all about. We have a great attitude, we are all cool with each other."
Truly, EHS looked to have the deal in hand early in Game Two, romping to a 3-0 lead in the second. But the Lady Bulldogs, a good-size group with some bangers to spare, erupted for five runs in the second off Myranda Hinojosa. Though the road squad eventually tied things at 5 an inning later, McAllen was not to be denied, parlaying a 3-run homer in the sixth into a victory that knotted the series at a game apiece, after EHS had won 8-4 Friday at home.
In the clincher, after the searing heat had become as much a factor in the affair as hitting and defense, EHS came out and dominated when it had to.
"I think we were a little disappointed that we didn't win the second game, but we were definitely in better shape and it showed," said Arciba, who had the Lady Bulldogs chasing high fast balls all day and was never seriously touched. "We knew we could have done better but we just settled down and did the job."
Banda, who brings his team into the third round against an enemy it defeated twice in District 31-5A play, knows that the girls have a solid shot at another Sweet 16.
"We wore em' down, and we responded like I thought we would after Game Two," he commented after the Lady ‘Cats improved their record to 29-4 for the year. "The loss was a challenge, and so was the heat, but the girls came back...with kids like Torie, this team will never give up."
Senior Leeanne Hinojosa, who has been on a tear seemingly all year, went 5 for 8 in the afternoon of work, consistently getting on base to cause trouble for a weary Lady ‘Dog outfit. Arciba was 7 for 12 all told against McAllen, driving in two in the series-winning effort.
EHS struck for two in the second, one in the third, and three in the fourth, bunting well and making the slower foe make plays in the field, which it did not do with much alacrity. Conversely, the winner displayed quick-thinking D when catcher Cassandra Garcia raced back to get a wild pitch with a McHigh runner at third, flipping to Arciba, who whipped the bang-bang tag on to preserve the shutout.
Sucking down Gatorade and snacks to keep their strength up, the peppy Lady ‘Cats had soon made short work of The Mac in Game Three. One of the home fans, with her team down 6-0, shouted, "Hey, it's not over yet!"
But on a windy microwave of a day when one team had more toughness to burn, it was just wishful thinking. This one, as a certain loyal EHS rooter would crow, was, "In the book!"