Claire Garcia was in the middle of a happy cell-phone conversation scant minutes after the exciting win when Ili Hinojosa walked by and popped her a good one, right in her unguarded stomach. That’s the way it was Monday night at EHS as the Lady Cougars gave their fans a great thrill to talk about with a 7-6 win over arch-rival EHS.

Hinojosa, a four-year star for the school now playing in college, was at Grudge Match I along with at least six other former teammates, and the exes helped fill the park while the currents outplayed the higher-ranked Lady Bobcats for a highly satisfying league result.

Garcia had smacked a hit to lead off both the game and a 5-run North first that stood up over seven innings, with a little nail-biting at the end. The smooth senior shortstop, just a pup four years ago on the North crew that included Jackie Cantu and Alyssa Granado - both in attendance Monday - said that having all her old pals in the park helped.

“They had to come support, you know,” she laughed after the narrow victory.

North was all smiles following a huge road effort over a team that has been ranked No. 1 in the Valley all year. Garcia explained that although it was a vindicating triumph for the city’s top program over the last decade or so, the Lady Coogs (16-4 overall, ranked No. 4 last week) weren’t that concerned with the opponent. Many people had imagined that North was itching to knock the high-flying EHS club down a peg. Yes and no.

“We were trying to play to our standards, just our normal game, even if it was EHS,” she said. “We had a few wavering moments but we kept our heads up all the way. We can’t even play too hard to try and beat some team or the other, we need to just play our game and things will take care of themselves.”

Execution and outstanding defense told the tale in this one, as the North outfielders rebounded from a few iffy plays to make some super catches down the stretch. Left fielder Melina Sanchez and right fielder Victoria “Smurff” Salazar each contributed sweet running grabs, and when Salazar squeezed Anissa Gonzalez’ liner in the bottom of the seventh, it was curtains for the Lady ‘Cats, who lost for the third time this year to drop to 13-3 overall, 2-1 in league play.

Coach Richard Tressler, whose bunch is off to a 3-0 start in district with 37 runs in that span, noted that the explosive first inning (punctuated by a Victoria Cardenas grand slam) combined with some gutty fielding to spell victory for his girls.

“We hit the ball well and got some big hits from kids who had been struggling, like Sam Cantu, she was great tonight with two doubles,” said the veteran skipper. “And in the field, we botched a few easy ones but then made some amazing catches. That’s the way this game is sometimes, it will drive you crazy if you let it. But we hung in there and showed what we are made of, I think. They have a lot of pride, a lot of talent, and they play well together.”

LONG-AWAITED COLLISION

They were made of the long ball early on, as Cardenas jacked a sky-high homer off sophomore Sammy Arciba in the first, Sanchez following with a laser beam solo shot to center field to make it 5-0 in shocking fashion.

However, EHS came right back against junior Annie Badillo with three runs in the bottom of the first, with senior Leeanne Hinojosa starting the rally with a walk and scoring on sister Myranda Hinojosa’s double. Arciba singled in a run and Brittany Davila plated another with a groundout, as the Lady ‘Cats got rolling, aided by a throwing error on Salazar in right.

Cantu led off the second with a double and eventually came home on a two-out by senior Bobcat Killer Cynthia Garcia, who has always been clutch against EHS. It was 6-3, but from there, the pitchers settled in and there no runs until the fifth, when the home side got two.

Again, Leeanne Hinojosa was the catalyst with a lead single; with one out, Tori de Leon walked and Arciba singled, Hinojosa scoring and then de Leon, the latter after an outfield throwing error by Sanchez. But Salazar’s sliding catch in right robbed Gonzalez of a hit and Sanchez ranged nimbly to her left on the run to head off Davila’s line drive headed for the gap. This pair of defensive gems preserved the lead for Badillo.

“We jumped on them fast and then had a few mishaps,” Granado said. “They [EHS] have a really good softball team and when they started coming back, it humbled us a little. Kudos to them, because they didn’t quit when they got behind.”

Up one in the top of the sixth, the Lady Coogs manufactured a vital insurance run when Cantu cracked one down the right-field line for a two-bagger that plated Sanchez. The bottom three in the order, Sanchez, Salazar, and Cantu, came up huge in the clutch Monday. Sanchez walked in the sixth, was bunted over by Salazar, and scored on Cantu’s opposite-field smash.

The best shot EHS had at the comeback came in the bottom of the sixth, when Z Borrego walked, and Kassy Rodriguez bunted for a hit, with a throwing error past first base on Cardenas sending Borrego all the way home. But with one out, Leeanne Hinojosa popped up a bunt attempt and Myranda Hinojosa reached for an outside pitch and floated a weak one to second, ending the chance. Ball game, or at least after EHS went 1-2-3 in the last half of the seventh. But when that sixth-inning opportunity died on the vine, it was a bad sign for the Lady ‘Cats.

Tressler said that though he knew his team was going to be good this year, it always comes down to doing it, not saying it.

“That’s the difference when you’re talking about potential,” he advised. “Sooner or later, you have to produce, or that’s all it is, potential. I knew we could potentially score a lot of runs with this lineup, and now we’re doing it. But the rest of the season we are going to live by perhaps my number one softball philosophy: take it one game at a time, prepare for every game, and avoid the letdown after a big win.”

 

NOTES: North followed that up with a 9-7 win over Harlingen Thursday as Lauren Salaiz drove in four and Cardenas homered. EHS got back on track with a 16-0 shellacking of Econ in there innings.