They passed each other like two ships in the night, with one coursing along with a growing head of steam and the other listing badly as it floated to port for repairs. The Edinburg Lady Bobcats are the object in motion, after knocking off the North Lady Cougars Friday in a 3-2 classic at North.
It marked the third loss in a row for North (9-5 and third in 31-5A) while the Lady Cats made a dream come true by clinching a tie for the district title. It was the culmination of a killer week in which they blasted Harlingen South 10-0 and got a gift W when a previous loss to Pharr North became a win when the word was passed that the Lady Raiders had used an ineligible player. But it was also the completion of a season of hard work and struggle to overcome the Lady Cougars, who have manned the dominant softball program in town since somewhere before the Pleistocene epoch.
When freshman Sammy Arciba pitched the final two innings in relief of starter and fellow fish Myranda Hinojosa, the Lady ‘Cats had clinched their first district title in…in…well, Coach Jesse Banda and onlookers in the media could not remember the last time the program finished first.
“We made the plays when we had to and that was the difference,” said Banda, whose team is now 22-3, the best mark in school annals. “When Sammy came in, I think they [‘Lady Coogs] thought that was good, because they knocked her out the first time we played. But she was fresh and she was throwing hard. It’s a great win for us.”
The first clash in the Feline Grudge Match had ended with North on top, 6-5, but the Lady Coogs have had trouble at the plate down the stretch, popping up too much and leaving 18 runners on base in two losses leading up to Friday.
As the celebration began after the final out, the Lady Bobcats knew that 26 hours later, they would suit up once again, to face off with the Lady Hawks of South; the two teams finished tied for first with 12-2 records. [They won that one, 6-0, incidentally].
GAME OF THE YEAR
It’s sort of hard to get to the North field these days as a giant crane and mounds of dirt have turned the complex into an obstacle course. But get there, they did. A capacity crowd was on hand to see Iliana Hinojosa battle with Myranda Hinojosa on the hill. This game was supposed to be for the league title once upon a time, but through the vicissitudes of a long season, it ended up offering a chance for one unit to clinch a share of the crown, the other consigned to the spoiler role.
EHS scratched first in the second, after a diving catch in left field by speedy Kassy Rodriguez had kept the Lady Coogs off the board in the first. Anissa Gonzalez walked to lead off the second and Sarina Rios skied a double over Nikki Garza’s head in right; Gonzalez eventually scored on a perfect sacrifice bunt from second sacker Mariah Ozuna, who has been red-hot in the second half.
In the North half of the second, the team’s frustrating inability to hit in the clutch continued as Hinojosa struck out two to avoid a mess after Claire Garcia had reached third base.
“I think that this is an excellent team that just has not been playing at its best,” said North Coach Richard Tressler, whose team will face San Benito in the bi-district round of the playoffs. “When you leave as many runners on as we have been doing lately, it’s hard to justify thinking you can win games.”
But North evened the count at one apiece in the third when EHS was called for a violation as catcher Deidre Tafolla set up within the batter’s box. On the pitch, with runners at second and third, the call was made and a run was allowed to come in.
Besides that, as Banda said, the Lady ‘Cats made the plays. After Rodriguez’ fine catch in the first, the next super effort in the field came in the fourth from senior Claudia Salinas, who like Ozuna has been carrying the team with clutch work. When Garza singled to center the ball eluded Salinas, but she located it quickly and fired a strike to second to get Garza trying to stretch the hit into a double. Myranda Hinojosa, who fanned six in a solid effort, then struck out Laura Torres for out number three.
From there, Ili Hinojosa started really humming for North, popping the mitt with extreme force, and into the sixth it was still 1-1, with the overflow crowd growing more nervous by the minute. In that inning, though, Rios would be the hero of the evening.
First she smacked a bounder out to second with two runners aboard; North soph Annie Badillo could not handle the chance and Hinojosa and Salinas came home. The frame had started the way North did not want, as Myranda Hinojosa walked and Salinas was it by a pitch. Gonzalez sacrificed the runners with another sweet bunt, setting up Rios’s key smack off her pal, Hinojosa.
“We played some good Short Ball tonight, we bunted well and we didn’t need that many hits as it turned out,” said Banda, whose gals made only four safeties on the night.
With a 3-1 lead, EHS’s Hinojosa allowed back-to-back bloop singles down the right-field line, the second of which came off the bat of Iliana Hinojosa to make it 3-2. Then Rios made a play she will always recall with fondness, after Arciba came on for the tiring Hinojosa. Garcia looped a ball to first and Rios snared it, made a beeline back to first, and dived amid a dust cloud to beat pinch-runner Desiree Dominguez to the sack.
The bang-bang double play took the life out of the Lady Coogs, and later Rios noted that it was a sequence she saw from the get-go.
“Right, when it was hit, I think I knew it was going to happen,” she explained. “They had put a pinch-runner in for Ili, so I figured she had to be fast. So when it was hit I told myself that no matter what, I had to get it and run to the bag. Wow! This is a win we have needed for so long, we really wanted it. And to do it on their home field, well, it makes it even better!”
The Lady Coogs had one more chance, and Garza started the seventh off with a hard single to center field. But with one out, Ozuna fielded two grounders in a row, pitching to Gonzalez at short for both putouts, and it was Party Time.
For Arciba, who was rocked pretty hard in the first meeting between the two, it was some sweet redemption.
“I was feeling good when I came in tonight,” said the soft-spoken newcomer who has been a mainstay on the mound all year for a staff that allowed a miserly 31 runs in 14 district games. “I was throwing harder than I did in that other game with them. I had to be better this time…and I had to get it done.”