It was a simple case of the veteran program holding serve adroitly, showing the upstart that it’s going to take more than talent and potential to unseat the Lady Coogs.
North went over to Vela Tuesday for the start of the District 31-6A softball season, and in a much anticipated collision between excellent squads it was the visitor who did all the right things, leaving the Lady SaberCats in the dust for a sharp 6-0 victory.
Jackie Longoria, the four-year North gem, hurled a 3-hitter, striking out 10 and keeping the Vela hitters off balance with her well-noted penchant for nibbling the corners expertly and throwing much harder than her delicate frame should permit.
At the plate, Natalie Rodriguez hammered out a 4-for-4 night and fellow sophomore Hope Rodriguez was close behind with three safeties in four trips, including a deep, ringing triple.
The Lady Coogs, 12-6 overall with the W, bunted well, ran their way into some Small Ball runs, and fielded flawlessly, illustrating that despite some graduation losses and the rise of Vela to contender status, Coach Richard Tressler’s crew is perhaps a favorite to duplicate its league title of 2016.
Coach Jon Maples’ Lady Sabes, very impressive in compiling a 9-5 record heading into the New Grudge Match, was in against a Valley heavyweight for the first time as a 6A contender, and at times played like it. Impatient at the dish, a team averaging six runs per game was limited to none against Longoria. Outfielder Alyssa Alaniz contributed two of the three hits but most innings, Vela was flailing at Longoria’s offerings with little success.
Case in point, the home second. After North took a 1-0 lead in the first via a walk and steal from Longoria followed by a line drive RBI single from Nat Rod off “Monie” Reyes, the Lady Sabes went 1-2-3 in the second on just seven pitches.
The Lady Coogs then took command in the third with a three-spot on singles from the unrelated Rodriguez gals and a terrific bunt from first baseman Maria Garza that plated a run. Garza was also active in the field with an unassisted double play in the third and a snare of a hard shot off the bat of Alyssa Cedillo in the fifth.
Bottom line, North was prepared for this one and took it to Vela in every category. They worked Reyes deep into counts by laying off her high hard stuff, fashioning quality at-bats all night. Scoring early gave the champ momentum and then muscle memory carried the night of solid execution.
Before the game, first-year mentor Maples noted that with its travels to upstate tournaments against tough competition, his relatively young group had shown positive signs of growth.
“Playing in the upstate atmosphere, seeing some really great teams, it was good for this team,” he stated. “And the opportunity to bond was important also, especially for girls getting used to a new coach. They have bought into my philosophy and we did a lot of hard work – in the weight room for example – to prepare for the season.”
All to the good and expect Vela to be right in the thick of the race in 2017 as it returns to the 6A level after two seasons in 5A. But Tuesday, the home side was outhustled by a program that has been the gold standard in these parts for the better part of 20 seasons. The Lady Coog intensity, featuring a loud dugout throughout, seemed to intimidate the Vela 9 a bit, and one would expect Maples and Co. to learn from this lesson and stride confidently forth.
Their initial opportunity to reflect that progress was not long in coming, as Vela then got ready for a Friday road game against another perennial power, Edinburg High, which demolished Econ, 16-0 Tuesday in the league lid-lifter for both units.
The skies opened up late last week, wiping away most the diamond games scheduled for Friday. This meant that Spring Break week was going to be a real haul for the city teams with three softball contests for each. Vela-EHS came off Monday night, for example.