They call him “Jobu,” after a character in the wildly popular 1989 motion picture, “Major League,” and like a charismatic actor on the big screen, J.D. Escobar gave an award-winning performance Friday night.
The senior right-hander hurled North into second place on the last night of the regular season, cruising over to EHS to shut out the Bobcats, 5-0. It marked the third straight triumph this year for the Cougars (11-3 in District 31-5A, 20-5 overall) over the rival ‘Cats (10-4, 21-6), and Escobar, mixing his fastball with an excellent barrage of changes and curves, was the star.
“I had been struggling the past few outings and actually had a horrible week of practice,” said Escobar, who fanned seven and was outstanding in the late innings. “But I came out with the mindset that I was going to dominate, and I proved myself tonight.”
He started out like a man on a mission, striking out the side in the first as the ‘Cats were nowhere close on his two-seam change and wicked Uncle Charlie. Though Escobar allowed a hit in each inning, he never gave up a run, as tight infield defense helped him bring the Cougars into a bi-district series against Brownsville Porter next week.
Meanwhile, Edinburg hung tough but its defense hit some rough spots behind starter Austin Casas, who exited in the fourth and was replaced by Bubba Anthony, who struck out seven and allowed one run. But by then, North had turned a scoreless tie into a commanding lead thanks to the Small Ball approach that Coach Nick Cantu has been preaching all season.
In the week of work before the game, Cantu and his staff — including father Nick Sr. — worked on bunting and running, making the defense field the ball. Cantu Sr. went as far as bringing out a level to demonstrate the proper position for the bunt. And it worked.
In that telltale fourth the Coogs got just one hit, a two-run single from Noel Cruz (3 for 4) and benefited when the EHS defense could not deal with a series of bunts. Twice Bobcat fielders threw late to the base, allowing runners to reach via fielder’s choice, and Casas walked two in the frame, compounding the trouble.
Rick Fuerte walked to start the inning and Chris Cavazos laid down a bunt that Casas fielded and threw high to short, both men safe. Erick Casillas reached base when his sacrifice attempt drew a late throw to third to load the bases. Chris DeLuna drove in a run with a bounceout and after Josh Carranza walked to load them up, Cruz scorched a line drive to center for a 3-0 lead. Carranza came home on a wild pitch from Anthony, after the latter relieved Casas, and it was all the runs the Coogs would need.
The Coogs got solid fielding as usual, especially from wide-ranging shortstop DeLuna, who stole three bases, drove in two runs, and played flawless defense. He doubled, stole third, and came home with the fifth run, in the North sixth.
From there, Escobar was fantastic, breaking off benders and hitting his spots on the outside corner to dispatch the Bobcats. Outfielder Christian Ramirez got two hits for EHS, including a booming triple in the seventh. But the ‘Cats failed to get the clutch safety off Escobar when it counted.
There was a huge crowd on hand to see this grudge match that had been postponed for three days due to the Swine Flu scare. Both teams were sky high, with North resurrecting its dugout-ceiling bat jam, and EHS enjoying a banter session with the excitable Escobar.
Asked if he were aware of the mildly derogatory version of his nickname the ‘Cats were employing from the bench, the senior ace smiled.
“Yeah, I heard them,” he said, shaking his head. “But it’s all good…I won, and that’s it.”
EHS heads into the playoffs as the No. 3 seed, after a fine showing this year under first-year coach Robert Valdez, who inherited just three starters off last year’s league champ club. The ‘Cats will get either Hanna or Lopez in the first round.