No fireworks or other silliness after this one. Just classy kids and coaches, showing their love for one another and trying to make the most out of their last night together on the field.
North had just gone down under a devastating 14-hit attack marshaled by San Benito: the final in Game Two of the regional quarterfinal series was 9-3, Lady Greyhounds. The visitor pounded the ball all night and the Lady Coogs (29-9) could not manage to catch up after getting down 8-1 in the fourth. They'd dropped a narrow 3-2 decision the night before on the road.
But when it was done on a muggy Friday night, none of the North contingent was thinking about San Benito. The attention was on what this team had accomplished, and on the short list of awesome seniors who had played their last.
As Coach Richard Tressler addressed his team for the final time in 2011, the main cogs stood in front of him. The heart and soul of the deal, Claire Garcia, Cynthia Granado, and Victoria Cardenas, were sweaty, weary, and down. Two of them had their little junior pitcher, Annie Badillo by the arms, supporting the worn-out warrior. For more than 20 minutes they listened to their mentor, as they have done on more than 100 nights of their diamond lives.
Slowly the parents, families and rooters began to spill out onto the field, hesitant to take more than a few steps toward the gathered throng of athletes. There is, after all, the traditional, hidden barrier between the two entities, and rightfully so. This was a personal moment of thanks, of memories, and respect for the way the unit had gutted out two series wins in the postseason, and gone head to head with a very talented enemy.
Afterward, Garcia, whose hard-nosed play and graceful athleticism have been a pleasure to watch for four seasons, said that even though the Lady Coogs had expired a stage before the Sweet 16, it was a great run.
"I have no regrets really, it was a good ending here tonight," she smiled, pretty light-colored eyes shining under the bright spotlight. "No one else may have thought we would make it this far, but we always believed in each other. We never doubted."
Granado was perhaps the most emotional of the trio, as expected. She has always been a live wire, quick with a joke or song and forever seeming to get so much joy out of the game. Cardenas, the silent slugger who in 2011 enjoyed one of the greatest offensive seasons in school history, was impassive, stolid.
It had been a tough game, with several close calls going against the Lady Coogs, and at one point it seemed that an all-out riot might ensue, with the ever-obnoxious San Benito contingent giving it to the home side for seven innings. The parking lot had been filled to capacity well before the first pitch.
"It was a little frustrating tonight, but as you learn and mature, you figure out that there's nothing you can do about calls," Garcia said. "And whatever happens, you never blame the umps, you just keep battling. We had our opportunities, bad calls don't make the game...you have to play through it."
North tried to play through the adversity, but the Lady ‘Hounds were just better Friday, smacking two home runs including a backbreaking grand slam by Jackie Elizondo with two outs and a 3-2 count in the fourth. That blast up and out to left field bounced off an unlucky car beyond the fence, and made the score 8-1.
The Lady Coogs later struck for two single runs, but it would not be enough. Now, it was time to bid farewell to the foundation kids that have made this program once again one of the most feared in the Valley.
Never again will Garcia stand on the bench in her customary spot at the near end of the dugout, intently eying the pitcher while strapping on gloves and helmet to go to war. Never again will Cardenas take her mammoth cuts in the blue and gold, and we have seen the last of the smooth, clutch Granado.
But there are stars waiting to take the mantel of greatness.
Vanessa Salazar, the sizzling sophomore who produced a pair of amazing diving catches in the clincher, said that it was kind of weird to realize that the veterans are done. But she is ready to assume the role of leader.
"Those are some great seniors and we will totally miss them," said the versatile and speedy second baseman. "We have got some good girls coming up from the JV and we want to have another great season next year. I learned a lot from those senior girls."
The Lady Coogs had their chances in the opener, but stranded nine runners in dropping a 3-2 decision on the road.
When Melina Sanchez continued her excellent clutch hitting with an RBI double down the left-field line in the fourth to break a scoreless tie, North took the lead. But the Lady ‘Hounds answered with two in their half of the inning, and extended to 3-1 a frame later on a home run by Amber Garza.
Smurff Salazar narrowed the gap to 3-2 late but behind a 10-strikeout performance from Amber Jasso, the home side clinched Game One. In the fifth, North had missed a golden opportunity when Cardenas stuck with the bases loaded and two outs.