LADY BOBCATS NOW EYE DISTRICT CROWN

Breathless and taut all the way, Grudge Match II for 2017 lived to up all expectations as EHS – down all the way before tying it in the sixth – fought back for a memorable 3-1 extra-inning victory at North, pretty much salting away the District 31-6A softball championship in the process.

Delayed a day by rain, the two rivals came out and put together a masterfully played contest for all the marbles, replete with tremendous defense, clutch bunting in the late innings, and a heartfelt display of sisterhood at the end.

Perfect bunts from soph Kristee Salas and senior Becka Delgado won the day for Coach Ramon Arciba, who has led the club to a 12-0 mark in his first season; the Lady Cats got set to wrap up the crown Tuesday against Southwest (2-10).

Those two bunts led to a pair of runs in the eight inning, Delgado’s scoring a tally and Kayla Contreras’ hard single plating the other. When Desi Marmolejo, in relief of starter Amber Reyes, hurled a scoreless bottom of the frame, the Lady Bobcats had finally subdued a gutty North crew that withstood an injury to senior leader Vanessa Garces and kept scrapping the entire time.

When it was done, all the Lady Bobcats jogged over to the North dugout, where Garces was icing a knee that has troubled her for two seasons. She had re-injured herself with a breakneck base-running stab at first in the sixth, showing the Lady Coog pride on the line by trying to beat out an infield hit.

As the EHS kids, having not truly celebrated yet, filed in to commiserate with the distraught North shortstop, the true meaning of the city’s softball excellence became crystal clear.

“We’re like sisters, we have played with her for years and years,” said Contreras, who was pure beast Friday with three shots for hits and a slick job at third base. “We didn’t really plan it, it just happened, we just wanted to show that we were there for her, forget about the game for a minute.”

WHAT A GAME!

That touching sentiment aside, this classic will be remembered for many years, as North scratched first, in the first, after Jackie Longoria hustled from first to third on a passed ball. She flew home on a single from red-hot sophomore Hope Rodriguez (5 for 5 Tuesday against Econ).

From there it was goose eggs galore, however, as Longoria and Reyes hooked up in the expected pitching duel and the defenses were more than sound. The Lady Coogs had the better of the run through five with energy, noise, and execution while EHS, having beaten its rival 8-1 in the first set-to, played on its hind legs a bit.

“We were not with it at first, maybe we thought it was going to be easy like the first time,” said fireballer Reyes, who allowed just four hits in seven innings to gain the win. “We eventually got into it more. I guess the nerves went away after that reality check.”

EHS threatened in the fifth but was thwarted by Longoria, but an inning later the tie emerged, singles from Anngie Salinas (3 for 4, hit it hard all night) and Marmolejo leading to a run when North failed to hit the cutoff on a flyout, Salinas coming home.

This was one of the only debits of the night for the gloves, and North made up for it an inning later when 1B Maria Garza leapt to snare a cutoff throw from right and relayed to home, where Rodriguez made the putout after chasing the EHS runner back toward third.

The trouble was, North had managed just two hits since socking a pair in the first, and when the Lady ‘Cats pulled off their Small Ball magic in the eighth, it was down to the last gasp for the hard-working Lady Coogs. Though Longoria led off with a single, Marmolejo – headed to Midland College to play volleyball in the fall – had the answers, Contreras ending it with a 5-to-3 putout on Rodriguez (2 for 4).

Mid-game, Arciba had exhorted his charges, hollering, “this is for the title, man, how bad do you want it!?”

After the comeback triumph, the rookie coach spoke to the rally and its meaning.

“I also told them that all the coaches can do is build them up, get them ready, but at the end of the day it’s within them, and only them,” he explained. “They have to be ready to perform, produce, and I knew they could do it, I really did. Tonight we got the bunts down, we hit well with two strikes, and we overcame the lack of energy in the beginning. Super proud of all these girls for what they accomplished.”

At 10-2 now, North is a top bet for second while P-SJ-A Memorial (8-4) and Vela (7-5) will vie for the third and fourth spots. Those two will have to tackle Valley powers Weslaco and San Benito in bi-district. The Lady Sabes are two games up on 5-7 P-SJ-A heading into the final week, and can eliminate the Lady Bears Tuesday, clinching the postseason trip.