It was about as fan-terrifi-super-cali-marvelous as expected, believe it or not. Despite the fact that both teams had lost to Harlingen South last week, ending the dream of a war between unbeatens, the pulsating atmosphere for EHS-North softball Tuesday was still easily enough to split the atom.
EHS outfielder Leeanne Hinojosa noted afterward that at one point early on, she didn’t have to look up in the stands to see the capacity home crowd…she could flat hear it, adding that the din sounded like what it must be like at a major league baseball game.
The bleachers being way packed, the fans were lined up in rows behind the fence like in the old-timey, black-and-white baseball movies, with a healthy array of North rooters on hand to counter the sign-wavers and cat-callers representing the Bobcats.
And oh, what a game they saw, these sardined onlookers.
It turned on one big offensive inning and some clutch outfield defense from North. The Lady Bobcats did not bunt-and-run as many observers figured they might, and frankly, did not run the bases with grace. But they swung the bats well and clawed their way out of a 6-1 hole to nearly steal one. In the end, though, the Lady Cougars (15-5 overall) held serve for a 6-5 victory that ensconced them in a tie for first, a game ahead of their bitter rival.
In the midst of the dynamite 6-run fourth that won the day, first baseman Cynthia Granado summed it up well, as the North dugout thundered its clever and leather-lunged cheers in defiance of a hostile road crowd.
“I think I’m sweating more in here than I am out there,” she laughed, tugging at her soaked jersey with one hand and pointing out toward the field with the other.
And that’s the way it was Tuesday night, with way more than bragging rights on the line. EHS came in certain that now was the time to assert control in town, with North seeking to head them off at the pass. Thrills and chills a minute.
When North senior Iliana Hinojosa retired her power counterpart, Sarina Rios, on a fly ball to right, it was done, round one to the Gold. North at 5-1, EHS at 4-2 now in 31-5A. The Lady Coogs found themselves tied for the top spot after Harlingen knocked off South in extra innings late Tuesday, making the win even more rewarding.
SO PLAY ALREADY!
Figures that such a highly anticipated game would have to wait for an unanticipated delay, as the umpires arrived late on the scene, forcing the teams to cool their jets for an added 10 minutes. By the time it got going, it was unclear who was more fired up, kids or adults, such is the nature of the Feline Grudge Match.
Taking the hill for Edinburg was impressive freshman Sammy Arciba, and she would retire the first nine North hitters, thanks to a first-inning double play completed by Rios, who took a throw on a grounder from shortstop Anissa Gonzalez and whipped a rocket to third to nip a sliding Laura Torres. Gonzalez had alertly looked Torres back for an instant before making the toss, and that split second, combined with a money peg from Rios, did the trick to end the first scoring chance.
North meanwhile had its ace, Hinojosa going, and that always spells trouble for opposing hitters, On this night, however, she was human, allowing eight hits but battling tenaciously to get the key outs in the stretch run.
EHS scratched for two hits in its half of the first but could not get a two-out safety, echoing the troubles it had experienced against Harlingen South (a 1-0 loss with nine runners left on base, North had stranded 10 in a 3-2 loss to the surprising Lady Hawks Tuesday). It stayed scoreless until the third, when senior Claudia Salinas slammed a double off Hinojosa, went to third on a bunt from Leeanne Hinojosa, and gained a 1-0 lead for her mates on a throwing error from the usually dependable Granado.
That’s when North got to Arciba, and how. Sending nine batters to the plate, the Lady Coogs scored all the runs they would need, with four hits, two-thirds of their total for the game.
Torres walked and with one out, Gonzalez’ error put two on base. Hinojosa then singled to tie the game and Granado made up for her earlier boo-boo with a solid shot for two more and a 3-1 lead. “Chinch” is always at her best against the Red and Blue, count on that.
Then Nikki Garza blasted one to deep center with Salinas making a nice run but seeing the ball pop out of her glove for a double. After freshman Vanessa Salazar drove in a run, up stepped Alyssa Tressler, the coach’s kid, and she smacked a two-run base hit to right to make it 6-1.
At this stage, the North dugout was liquid bedlam, the EHS stands tomblike. But it was not over yet, not by a long shot.
Myranda Hinojosa relieved Arciba and proceeded to shut down North the rest of the way. The Lady ‘Cats managed two runs in the fifth after hits from Mariah Ozuna and Kassy Rodriguez, with Tori DeLeon getting an RBI and the other tally coming on a wild pitch. It could have been better. On the smash DeLeon hit to short, she figured that Claire Garcia had made the catch, and did not run to first. It turned out that Garcia one-hopped the ball and though a run got home on the sequence, the Lady Bobcats lost an out.
North Coach Richard Tressler hollered at his girls to keep their focus, noting in his inimitable style that this game was, as we said, not in the books yet.
That’s when the visitor’s D kicked in. Rios led off the sixth with a laser to right but Garza came up fast and gunned her down at first. It marked the fourth such outfield assist for the senior this season.
“I just saw the play and came up quick, it was more of an instinct than anything else,” said Garza, definitely one of the team’s most valuable players Tuesday.
Tressler said that Garza, who came into the program four years ago as a freshman with superb potential, is really starting to find her stride at the right time.
“The defense made some huge plays tonight, and Nikki had a couple of them for us,” said the coach. “She has a really quick release.”
The next EHS hitter was Myranda Hinojosa, who sliced a triple into the gap in right-center, meaning that the former catcher Garza had saved a run that would ultimately come to mean the difference between a win and extra innings. Gonzalez’ liner scored Hinojosa to make it 6-4 but then Garza again was ready, throwing out Gonzalez at second after Ozuna hit what appeared to be a single to right field, but ended up a fielder’s choice. Catcher Victoria Cardenas put out the fire with a difficult, backbreaking leaner of a catch on a foul pop.
With the Lady ‘Cats reaching Hinojosa more than anyone had predicted, the Lady Coogs tried to get some of those runs back, but EHS’s Hinojosa was not having it. She set her foe down in order in the fifth and sixth, and the bats got one more shot at it. Crunch time.
Zee Borrego walked to lead it off, with Hinojosa off and on, control-wise, perhaps tiring. Leanne Hinojosa reached on a fielder’s choice and then DeLeon ripped a low liner to left. Tressler was a step late and the ball caromed off the ground and clipped her eye, with Hinojosa steaming around to pound the dish for a one-run game.
“I told her before the game to keep the ball in front no matter what,” Tressler said. “And she did do that, it is actually an overlooked part of the game; if it gets all the way past her, who knows what happens.”
As it was, pinch-hitter Brit Davila did her job, moving DeLeon to third with an infield grounder to the right side, bringing Rios, a feared power slugger, face to face with the most powerful hurler in the Valley.
Ili induced Rios into the fly ball to right with her famed riser ball up high, with a twist.
“We saved that one for the end, we had been going inside on Sarina all game long,” Tressler revealed. “But we had Ili try that riser on the outside half of the plate, and it worked.”
There has been much ink spilled about this night in the pre-week parade, and both teams were sky-high for the affair.
The Hinojosas of EHS even suggested after the fact that perhaps the Lady Bobcats were so intent on proving they are now as good or better than the Lady Coogs - who have dominated city action for years - that it might have hurt the effort a bit.
“I think there is such a thing as being overly prepared,” said “The Little General,” and her kid sister nodded in agreement. “We probably beat them physically but we lost it mentally.”
Myranda Hinojosa added that the importance of the game was hard to miss.
“We were, well everyone I guess, was a little too antsy,” she remarked.
Both sisters agreed that the loss to North, after a 15-1 start to the season was rocked by two league defeats, is all the more painful because they truly believe they are on an even par with their rival. Tressler rang in on that count as well.
“And it’s going to be another battle when we get them at our place,” he promised. “They have some dangerous hitters in the lineup, they chipped away tonight and got to Iliana better than we thought they would. That’s a tough team, and frankly, I think Harlingen South is going to have a hard time with either of us the second half.”
NOTES: EHS rebounded with an 11-4 over P-SJ-A Memorial Thursday while North was surprised by Harlingen in a 12-11 slugfest loss, leaving the rivals tied for second at 6-2, a game back of South. The Lady ‘Cats were set to take on Harlingen and cellar-dweller P-SJ-A this week while the Lady Coogs had P-SJ-A and Econ (1-7) on tap.