When Chris Cavazos slammed his fourth hit of the night, in the eighth inning Friday, Rick Fuerte stood up and yelled to his teammate: “I Love you man!!!”
Moments later, when the Cougars had completed the comeback to turn a 4-2 deficit into a 5-4 nailbiter over rival Edinburg, Fuerte was mobbed by a phalanx of relatives; he was in for his share of love too.
“Man, that was one crazy game,” Fuerte exhaled after extricating himself from the clutch of well-wishers. Who could blame the Coog boosters for being fired up, after the right-hander won for the sixth time in 2009 without a loss, taking a no-hitter into the sixth and surviving a poor stretch late to post a gutty decision.
“I have to admit, when we got behind, honestly my hopes dropped a little,” said Fuerte, who allowed four singles in the sixth - including a two-run hit from J.J. Balderas - as EHS came from 2-0 down to lead 4-2 heading into the bottom of the inning. He’d been perfect to that point, striking out five with an assortment of offspeed pitches and a sneaky, accurate fastball. “But I knew my guys could come back and I felt like they would. I just had to keep on doing what I was doing. I thought we could pull it off.”
That they did so is a testament to the never-say-die attitude that has infiltrated the unit this year. In improving to 5-2 in District 31-5A and 14-4 overall, the Coogs, tied for first with EHS and P-SJ-A now, showed they were not about to settle for a loss.
They’d knocked off the Bobcats (5-2, 16-4) in the title game of the La Joya Tournament back in February. Now they set about brawling against Bobcat great Bubba Anthony, no easy task considering that the dominant senior lefty had struck out a career-high 15 in a game two weeks back.
But North scratched out a run in the sixth when Fuerte reached base on an error by EHS second sacker Derrick Soza, his third of the night. Eventually, catcher Erick Casillas, mired in a slump and relegated to the ninth spot in the order, came through with a clutch single to make it 4-2, but when Soza redeemed himself by completing a double play to end the inning, it would go to the seventh with North down two.
Noel Cruz started the rally or North by getting plunked by a pitch from Anthony, who fanned nine but was betrayed intermittently by faulty defense that committed five miscues afield. Then J.D. Escobar slammed a double into the gap in left-center to plate a run; Escobar has now hit safely in all seven league games. Next it was sophomore Andrew Arteaga’s turn in the spotlight, and the sweet-swinging newcomer rapped a sacrifice fly for his second RBI of the night.
Extra innings, with the huge crowd at North going bonkers. This second fight in City Rivalry Week, after the Lady Bobcat softballers had rallied past North Tuesday, was getting good.
Fuerte induced Bobcat backstop Spanky Rodriguez to line to Fernie Castillo in left and then Cavazos and Chris DeLuna came up with a twin-killing on an Austin Casas grounder to send the Coogs to the dish in the eighth.
Cavazos led off the frame with his double, Casillas then getting hit by a pitch. Casas came on in relief of Anthony and yielded a ground single through a drawn-in infield to cap the rally at 5-4 Coogs, just like at La Joya.
After the exciting finish, an emotional Fuerte praised Cavazos and the rest of the group for their efforts.
“I knew this team would find a way, I knew we could do it,” he stressed. “Since I am an ex-Bobcat, this means even more to me. But it was a total team effort.”
For his part, Cavazos, who came in hitting a robust .389 yet is one of those guys who seems to get lost in the shuffle on a very talented roster, just wanted to make sure to get to second base.
“I hit that ball and I saw it go up, and all I was thinking was, get to second so I could score the winning run,” said the steady senior infielder. “We never gave up, we just kept on pushing. We work hard, everyone on this team does, and it paid off tonight.”
The Coogs had come into the season with two straight playoff appearances, and were a favorite to win the league, especially since EHS suffered extreme graduation losses. However, narrow first-half defeats at the hands of P-SJ-A (6-4) and Pharr North (5-4) made this one a must-have.
Coach Nick Cantu said he never doubted his troops.
“No, no…no. I didn’t think we were out of it,” he declared in the celebratory postgame din. “I just told the kids they had to believe in themselves and they could do it. EHS is a good team and every time we play, it’s a battle. Now we’re back in a tie for first and we have to keep this going all the way.”
NOTES: Econ won for the second time in three starts behind freshman pitcher Sammy Alvarado. The Jags edged P-SJ-A Memorial 13-10 Friday as Mark Esquivel and Eric Martinez had two hits each.