To start the latest softball season, defending champ North was at the Mission Fastpitch Tourney last week, winning three of four before Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Laredo Alexander in the Spirit Title game.

North said goodbye to some real program stars such as Abby Hinojosa, Klari Lopez, and Ayissa Maldonado, but Coach Richard Tressler still has some horses in the stable.

Foremost among them is Jackie Longoria, last year’s Valley MVP back for her senior season as a great pitcher and run manufacturer on offense.

Catcher Hope Rodriguez, outfielder Carolina Garcia, and first baseman Maria Garza are returning starters who combined for 60 RBI last year as the Lady Coogs won a program-record 32 times and advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to New Braunfels Canyon.

Transfer Natalie Rodriguez, formerly of EHS, is a solid addition to the lineup and rangy Vanessa Garces – injured after just 14 plate appearances last season – returns to the diamond in 2017 and will be a key piece of the puzzle.

As for the rest of the crew in town, two schools come off 20-win seasons, Vela and EHS, and each has a strong returning cast, not to mention a new coach.

The Lady Bobcats tabbed Ramon Arciba to replace the departed Jesse Banda, and the former comes well recommended after a noted tenure as a select coach. His new team will as always depend on IF-P Dezi Marmolejo, now a senior, plus no fewer than six other starters off a group that went 23-11 and marched to the third round in 2016 before being eliminated by a red-hot Weslaco nine.

Strong-armed junior Amber Reyes, who hit .462 with 39 runs, is the centerpiece in center field, with sophomore Maya Zavala (.393) at short. Anngie Salinas (.371, 30 RBI) is a veteran catcher and the Lady ‘Cats will be rock solid up the middle. IF Kayla Contreras and OF Val de Leon add to the depth, as do 1B Kristee Salas and 2B Rebecca Delgado, and EHS is definitely a threat to win the league; last season, it fell a game short of that goal.

At Vela, it’s Jon Maples in the third-base coaching box now, after assistant stints at three Valley schools, most recently Rowe. A Central Texas native with a degree from Mary Hardin-Baylor, Maples inherits a fine bunch of prospects, though the long-time battery of pitcher Shay Abbott and catcher Sarah Lopez has graduated.

Last year the club won 20 times, beating Edcouch-Elsa in bi-district before being eliminated by Gregory-Portland in area. This season began with the Canyon/Cibolo Tourney in the San Antonio area, where the club went 1-3 the first two days, scoring an 8-inning victory over co-host Steele. The team won twice Saturday, outscoring Seguin and SA Churchill, 16-1.

In their return to Class 6A, the Lady Sabes bring back shortstop Taylor Chavez, who slammed for .476 and 31 RBI as a freshman, and she pairs with classmate Evan Perez (.328, led the team in steals) at second. Junior Alyssa Alaniz (.397) and senior Jen Aguilar (defensive expert) man the outfield while Amber and Audrey Guerra will be prominent parts of the infield mix. Felicia Celedon is a seasoned infielder and on the mound, the Lady Sabes have the fire-balling Naomi Reyes, who should be poised for a breakout junior campaign. Reyes fanned 48 in 29 innings at the tournament, and drive in six runs to boot.

Econ heads into the latest season under the venerable Lonnie Garza minus several key seniors from last season, including four-year starter Ashley Escalante, but speedy junior outfielder Destiny Gonzalez should be able to pick up the slack to an extent.

BASEBALL BEGINS

Three of four city teams will be at the Laredo Border Olympics Thursday through Saturday, with Econ at the Port Isabel Tourney.

EHS starts with a home game Tuesday versus CC Vets Tuesday, while North – after a 6-0 opening win against Brownsville Vets – is off until Laredo. Same for Vela, which had a healthy dose of scrimmages in preps for the trip west.