Now THIS was a Rivalry Game.
After a first-inning detonation had led to a one-sided North win over Vela during the first half of league play, the rematch dawned Friday with much more at stake. Each team had lost on Tuesday, the Coogs to P-SJ-A and the SaberCats to Econ, the race tightening in 31-6A, so this was a biggie.
It ended up being a slugfest, back and forth, each rival leading for a while, and at the tape, the Coogs had grinded out a 7-6 victory. The fine new scoreboard at North was busy.
Carlo Servin, uncharacteristically mortal on the mound in an extended relief appearance, rang up a massive double to left-center in the bottom of the sixth to plate the go-ahead run, and then hurled his way home in the seventh, thanks to a couple of fine defensive plays from his teammates.
First baseman Marc Esquivel made the first one, ranging all the way to the dugout wall/fence to deftly snag a pop. Then, catcher Saul Garza got under a high pop behind the plate, nearly lost it in the darkened skies, but recovered at the last second to snag the fast-sinking ball as it tried to romp over his head back toward the plate. Servin fanned the last hitter to complete a satisfying win, keeping the Coogs tied for first with P-SJ-A.
Coach Damian Gonzalez, whose club had been beaten by the Bears 6-4 in its last outing, knew that North has the chops to win such tense contests.
“We have an experienced team and they know how to prepare for the big ones,” Gonzalez said. “We have some kids who have been with us three, four years. They have playoff experience and they know how to respond. We battled back against the Bears and we did it again tonight.”
Though the Coogs do have two of the Valley’s finest players in Garza and Servin, one key to the fine 7-1 start has been the play of a newcomer, sophomore Argelio Guajardo, who has hit .500 in district so far. In the blowout of P-SJ-A Memorial March 31, he went 3 for 3 at the plate and struck out six for the pitching win.
Against Vela, he had his issues on the mound (five walks) but provided two of the team’s eight hits. The SaberCats knocked him out with a five-run fourth, after having fallen behind 4-0. Coach Jaime Perez’ club fought with vengeance, worked through some shoddy fielding, and appeared to be on track for the upset.
Matt de la Cruz hammered a two-run single as one of the key blows, and even when the Sabes went back down, 6-5 after five, they continued to strive.
R.J. Ochoa contributed a clutch RBI single in the sixth to tie it up again, backing a gutty effort on the mound from long-legged junior Andre Martinez. At the close, Servin did what standouts do, leading his nine to the prize. But Vela (5-3) is still a factor on the race with six dates left on the schedule.
NOTES: The Bobcats pulled off a strong effort Friday, beating Econ 8-2 to rise to 3-6 in league play. They had been smashed by Pharr North (17-5) Tuesday while the Jags had recorded the nice W over Vela.
EHS has been battling well behind seniors Jaime Cansino and Mateo Gonzalez. Gonzalez has logged 23 innings on the mound when not catching, striking out 23 hitters and winning twice with a 1.83 ERA. Cansino leads the team with eight steals and fanned six in the team’s win against Southwest March 31. Sophomore hurler Jonathan Gonzalez is learning the varsity ropes and has 27 innings under his belt with a 2.36 ERA; poor defense has cost him a series of unearned runs.
The Jags are now back in a fourth-place tie with Pharr North, while EHS will have to get on a streak to launch back into the fray. The Bobcats hosted Vela Tuesday.
EHS kept it going last week with a pair of victories to rise to 10-0 in district, beating P-SJ-A Memorial 14-3 Friday to hang on to first place with four games left. North continues to pursue at 9-1 after staying solid last week, Vela hanging tough at 5-5 in a tie for the final postseason berth with P-SJ-A.
It will come down to Grudge Match II, set for Thursday at North. The Lady Coogs did not play their game in the first clash between the two, but have outscored opponents 59-10 since the loss to the Lady Bobcats.