WESLACO — The Jags have hit the diamond this season with renewed determination to get out of the District 31-5A cellar, and they have a new head coach seeking to make that task a reality.
J.J. Serda, a former high school star at P-SJ-A who coached at Pharr North and Hidalgo before taking the Econ job after one season as assistant to Gene Shupe, brought his young group into the Tony Rico Tournament here over the weekend with expectations that it will be improved in 2009.
“Well, we won yesterday to get our first, and that’s good,” said Serda, who has minor league hurler Aaron Guerra of UTPA fame working with the pitchers once again. “I just want us to be able to make the routine plays, and we’ll go from there. We need to play better defense than we did last year.”
Indeed, the Jags beat Edcouch-Elsa as the tourney began Thursday behind junior pitcher Mark Esquivel, perhaps the program’s best player. Esquivel, who also does a strong job at shortstop, revealed that he will forego his senior season in football, where he was the starting quarterback last campaign, to concentrate on baseball.
“That’s my number-one sport, so I want to stick with that,” said Esquivel, who added that he is sold on Serda as the man now, though he was also happy with Shupe.
“No knock against our old coach, I liked him a lot,” said the infielder who helped the Jag infield turn two double plays in the early going of Friday’s second-round match against the host Weslaco Panthers. “But we just weren’t winning much. I think we’re going to be a lot better this time around.”
Along with Esquivel, Econ has returning veteran Carlos Fonseca and freshman Sammy Alvarado on the mound; the former plays third base when not pitching as he did Friday, while the latter is a promising prospect who batted leadoff against the Panthers.
The rest of the crew is seeking to climb out of the league depths, where it has been for some time. Hard-hitting first baseman Elpidio Vega was honorable mention All-District last season, while the Jags expect sophomore catcher Alexis Lozano to progress rapidly. Second baseman J.C. Garcia, a converted outfielder, and left fielder Eric Martinez are returning starters, and Serda can call upon basketball/football regular Mario Llamas for designated hitting chores.
The Jags showed both promise and room to grow Friday, as they turned those two twin-killings but also committed three errors in the first three innings, falling behind Weslaco 5-1. Esquivel slammed a long drive that sailed past the Panther center fielder for a triple in the first, and was plated on a run-scoring grounder by Vega.
Serda wants the team to hang in there and get the swing of things at the plate, which has not happened to his satisfaction yet. He is also counting on his mound staff to keep things close so that the Jags might be able to pull some games out in the late stages.
“We want to play seven innings, because last year we had several games where we were out after five,” he commented. “If we can just making the easy plays, the bats will come around. It’s a challenge we have right now, but I always like a good challenge.”
NOTES: Econ (1-7) lost to Weslaco, 11-1, but rebounded Saturday to play solid baseball, getting edged out by Weslaco East, 4-2.