It should have come as no surprise that Saturday paled mightily in comparison to Friday’s amazing detonation display. It was a zillion degrees in the shade at 5:30 and coming off a 19-3 massacre at Weslaco in Game One, odds were that the Lady Bobcats were going to be a tad flat.
They were sluggish, quiet, and a bit eh. It took them a few innings to bat around, as they’d done a couple of times in Game One (in the mammoth 12-run first inning) but a four-run third was just about all EHS would need to advance to the area round of the state softball playoffs.
Buoyed by Myranda Hinojosa’s career-high 12-strikeout performance, the Lady ‘Cats defeated Weslaco 7-2 in Game Two to clinch the bi-district title and rise to 25-3 for the season; next up is a second-round tussle with Rio Grande City (24-7, No. 8 in the Valley), which upended Del Rio 1-0 Saturday to win a one-game series. Game One is at Rio Friday with the series continuing Saturday at EHS for the second, and possibly third, match.
Momentarily, the girls thought of dousing head coach Jesse Banda with Gatorade in the postgame din. But they talked themselves out of that one and settled for a dominant performance in the program’s first postseason action in five years.
Shortstop Anissa Gonzalez, one-fourth of the club’s quartet of Super Sophs, had two hits and three RBI, while steady veteran first baseman Sarina Rios helped pace a 12-hit attack with three safeties. Hinojosa baffled the Pantherettes (14-14) with a masterful change-up, yielding just three hits on the day. With Principal Dan Roma leading the cheers from the dugout, yelling “Put her in the book, Myranda!” on the verge of every K, the Lady Bobcats took care of business on an afternoon where they were not terribly fired up.
“I think the heat was a factor, definitely,” said Gonzalez, who iced a tendonitis-plagued knee after the win. “We still did enough to pull through and we’re very excited; we’re on to the second round!”
In the first two innings the Lady ‘Cats had a difficult time against Weslaco’s sophomore pitcher Amanda Alaniz, whose fastball is like a slow-moving turtle crossing a lonely rut-filled highway blindfolded in leg weights. They gradually were able to find patience enough to get some good cuts, and put four on the board in the third. Stealing seven bases also aided in the cause.
“That was hard to do, be patient up there because she was so slow,” said Gonzalez, whose long two-run double in the inning was the big blow. “We had been working all week with soft toss to try and get ready, but it was still tough to wait long enough.”
That four-spot was plenty with Hinojosa on the mound. After fellow freshman Sammy Arciba had steamrolled the Pantherettes in Game One, Hinojosa was just as strong. She retired the first nine hitters, fooling two with nasty changes that had the purple girls swinging from their heels about an hour ahead. She throws all her pitches with roughly the same motion and this able to disguise the dazzling let-up, turning opposing batters into pretzels with regularity.
Mariah Ozuna completed a double play in the fourth with aid at first from Rios, who made two nice scoops around the bag Saturday in one of her better all-around games of the banner campaign. Weslaco pushed one across on that twin-killing, though, as a leadoff walk - one of only two issued by Hinojosa versus the dozen punchouts - came back to matter. It was 4-1.
EHS added a single run in the fifth after Leeanne Hinojosa singled, stole second and came home. The Lady ‘Cats finished up in the sixth when pinch-hitter Kaylee Romero singled to start things. Hinojosa and Tori DeLeon (she scored three times) followed with singles as the Red and Blue padded the lead.
Banda said that his team was a bit complacent after the blowout Friday, but did well enough to advance after breaking it open in the third.
“We were a bit off stride at the plate but so were they,” he noted. “Myranda has that killer change and it is tough to hit. We can hang our hats on those two freshman pitchers this year, for sure.”
NOTES: Former EHS softball star Amanda Cadena made a return to campus Saturday as a first assistant for head coach Mario Rodriguez of Weslaco.
The Lady ‘Cats have averaged nearly 10 runs per game since 31-5A play began, allowing just two a night. Rio netted 7.6 per game on offense in league play, yielding 3.5, and was 12-1 in 30-5A before two late losses to La Joya blunted its momentum somewhat.