It is very difficult to handicap as the race that approaches, because most District 31-6A baseball clubs have reason to be excited. That would include North, which has one of the most dominant pairs in the Valley, and would not exclude Vela, possessor of a potentially top-shelf pitching rotation. Econ comes into the 2017 season off its best showing in a decade or more while EHS – heavily buffeted by graduation losses – still has a long tradition of excellence to employ while the youngsters scramble to get seasoning on the fly.
All in all, the campaign shapes up as one of the most intriguing in many seasons.
In Carlo Servin and Saul Garza, the Coogs have the cornerstone of a group that could better last year’s 20-win showing that ended in a bi-district loss to Hanna. Coach Damian Gonzalez can also call upon several other starters from 2016; Jojo Munoz and Jon Salas are the outfield vets with Jose Salinas and Mark Esquivel at the corners on the infield.
Servin (.572 batting average) won nine games on the mound last year as a junior, with a puny 0.67 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 63 innings of work. Garza (.513) will so do some pitching when not behind the plate. Both are headed to the next level for 2018.
Vela appears ready to challenge for a district title as well with junior Aaron Galvan (six wins, 71 K’s) and sophomore Nico Rodriguez (41 K’s in 40 IP) heading the mound staff.
The SaberCats were an offensive powerhouse in 2016, hitting .379 as a team, averaging 8.3 runs per game, winning 18 times, and taking two playoff series before being knocked out by Calallen. Juniors Jesse Garcia (.367) and Matt de la Cruz (.400) were excellent last year, as was senior R.J. Ochoa (.486). Now, team leader Ryan Rodriguez and the Sabes are intent on making the return to 6A a smashing success.
Also about to explode may be Econ, which posted five league wins in 2016 and narrowly missed out on the postseason. Though the Jags lost a few starters to graduation, they have seven kids back who played prominent roles in the resurgence. Ismael Lopez (.397) is a three-year starter for a team that has a strong senior class including IF Gerardo de Leon and catcher Ralphie Galvan.
It’s been awhile since Coach Robert Valdez came into a diamond season with so little experience, but never count the Bobcats out. OF-P Jaime Cansino and catcher Mateo Gonzalez are the main men now for a club that went 19-11 in 2016, winning bi-district before losing to Alexander in area. Among the grad losses were John Henry Gonzalez (Texas Tech) and Matt Trevino (Texas A&M-International), while promising prospect Ramsey Amador is now at Vela.
Gonzalez started and won the other night for Tech, paying early dividends for the Red Raiders after a storybook career in Red and Blue.
THE LAREDO TRIP
It was a decent beginning out west as EHS won twice, North and Vela once each Thursday. Friday, however, the Bobcats ran afoul of New Braunfels and Houston Milby, dropping a pair, while North gained steam with wins over Donna and Smithson Valley. Vela stomped Hidalgo, 10-5, setting up more play at the Border Olympics.
After a loss to CC King, the Sabes outlasted Pasadena Dobie, 5-4. EHS dropped out with a loss to Leander Rouse, but North made the consolation semis before a wild 10-9 defeat at the hands of New Braunfels.
At the Port Isabel classic, Econ scored triumphs versus Falfurrias and Brownsville Vets, losing to El Paso Ysleta, over the first two days.
Saturday they nudged past Grulla, 5-4 and will be in action this week at the Tony Rico Tourney in Weslaco. After that, the Jags will compete at the Harlingen South event in preps for the league opener, March 14 at home against EHS. The Bobcats are slated to appear at the Mission Tourney this week while North has tagged the La Joya and Harlingen South tourneys; the Coogs start league battles March 14 at Vela. The Sabes, like North, will be at La Joya and Harlingen South in the next two weeks.