There is a batbag full of reasons why Edinburg High should be able to improve last year’s 7-7 district record, including better hitting and defense, plus a potentially devastating one-two combination on the mound.

Oh yeah, and there’s one more, four blue-chip freshmen joining the squad in 2009 with a head of steam behind them. All in all, Coach Jesse Banda enters his second season at the helm with a dangerous team on board, one ready to take the next step, which is into the playoffs.

“We’re looking really good,” said Banda, who took over for Eloy Perez last year. “We should be better at hitting, and our defense will be better also. Last year we never could get the key hit at the right time, but I expect that to change.”

Banda is joined by long-time friend Sonny Villarreal, now an assistant with the Lady Bobcats after a number of years with EHS baseball. The two coaches were teammates on the 1971 Pan American University College World Series entry, and they like the looks of the incoming freshmen.

“Those girls can flat play,” said Banda, and Villarreal, who is working with the outfield and the hitters, agreed.

Villarreal noted that he’s drilling the girls on situational batting, a team weakness in 2008.

“We are working on hitting the ball where it’s pitched, often to the opposite field,” he explained. “There are no moments when they’re just hitting with no guidance, all the drills are designed to teach them how to hit it where it’s pitched.”

The Lady ‘Cats return a healthy supply of veterans, including pitcher Leeanne “The Little General” Hinojosa, second-team All-District as a freshman, the infield tandem of Claudia Salinas and Mariah Ozuna, plus rangy Sarina Rios, who will split time between first base and the mound.

But the big story early on is the quartet of 9th-graders, led by smooth-fielding shortstop Tory DeLeon. She may be tiny, but DeLeon has a great glove and should form a killer left side of the infield with the gutty vet Salinas moving to third from short.

Then there’s Anyssa Gonzalez, a terrific athletic specimen with a strong arm; she will be one of three incoming outfielders for EHS this year, and her upside is tremendous. Cassie Rodriguez is well-built and approaches the ball like a varsity outer gardener must, joining speedy Brittany Davila as newcomers who plan to make a splash this spring.

“We brought up a bunch of kids from junior high who have been playing since they were five years old, and a lot of them are track runners, so they have speed,” Banda reported. “And the thing is, we have another great group of girls waiting to come up next year.”

Throw in returning stick Michelle Loya, expected to fill the designated hitter role this season, plus the catching pair of Stephanie Salinas and Deidre Tafoya, and EHS appears capable of becoming a contender for the 31-5A title.

“It’s always a tough district, but we like the chances this year,” Banda said. “It took awhile for us to find the mesh with the new players, but we are working hard and we’re ready for the season to begin.”

EHS scrimmaged Brownsville Rivera and San Benito on the road last week and will get two home workouts this week before the tournament season starts next Monday.