One has to hand it to Lonnie Garza and the Lady Jags. The softball season ended for both Friday at Vela, with a 10-0 loss to the playoff-bound Lady SaberCats, and Econ once again did not manage to carve out a single district win.

But Garza and his kids came out for the finale with the same enthusiasm that they showed early in the season, chattering and working, hoping for a breakthrough. Sometimes, though, it gets tough to hang in there.

“We practice pretty hard, yesterday we worked on game situations like we always do,” said Garza, who has skippered the program for many moons in the face of long odds, always producing a hard-working if not consistently successful team. “We just can’t seem to translate that into the games: we extend innings for most of the teams we play, and some of them do not need any help, they’re good enough as it is!”

Garza notes that each year he hits the field with a team bereft of the sort of travel/club ball regulars many of the other programs have by the dugout-load. And it hurts the effort. But he suggests that this may be changing.

“We do not have the league girls, never really have,” he explained. “So we sometimes have players who, well, this is their first real experience with softball, high school. But with the middle school programs up and running for the past few seasons, we’re starting to get some girls who have played some ball before. You can definitely tell the difference, in terms of seasoning, skills, etc.”

Despite a winless campaign, the Lady Jags have gotten the usual solid contribution from sleek outfielder Destiny Gonzalez, whose sister, freshman Faith, shows potential at shortstop. And yet another Gonzalez sister, Hope, is on the way.

Against the Lady Sabes, Orange fielding was decent overall but the visitor surrendered seven walks and uncorked five wild pitches, including four in a first inning that concluded with Vela up, 3-0. And so it went from there.

Vela, meanwhile, has many of the seasoned club vets Garza is talking about, and right now, Coach Jon Maples also has a peaking team that is ready for the playoffs.

“Yes, we have been growing up, right before our eyes and the past few weeks we’ve been getting the key hits, putting bunts down,” he noted, as the team now prepares for a difficult bi-district match with San Benito. “I think we can play with San Benito, in fact, I know we can, so do the girls. We lost to them 3-1, led in the sixth inning, so this series coming up should be a good one. We’re fired up to see how we can do.”

The Lady Sabes ended 9-5 in District 31-6A and on a 5-game winning streak during which they outscored opponents 50-1. Friday they even turned an exceedingly rare triple play.

To illustrate Vela’s excellent depth for the closing contest, sophomore Felisha Guzman hurled a shutout and young Kameryn Casares nailed an inside-the-park homer. Amber Guerra, another sophomore of note for this up-and-coming unit, drilled a triple; she is also slated to be the second pitcher behind junior ace Naomi “Monie” Reyes for the series that starts Thursday at San Benny and returns to town for Game Two Friday. The rubber match, if necessary, comes Saturday back down in Greyhound territory, starting at 4 p.m.

“This is the fifth straight year Vela has been in the playoffs,” said Maples, who piloted the squad to a strong third-place tie in his first season. “We’re playing a team with tradition, San Benito, for sure, but we like to think that we’re building our own tradition, too.”

As expected, EHS wrapped up the title Friday at 14-0, beating Pharr North easily, and will now advance into bi-district against Weslaco East. North, at 12-2, stomped P-SJ-A in its finale and now will take on Harlingen South Thursday in a single-elimination game, a foe it defeated twice earlier in the campaign. In the other first-round series pitting 31 against 32, champ Weslaco draws fourth-seed P-SJ-A Memorial.

The Lady Bobcats (25-2 overall) have won 19 in a row with a potent attack (.443 as a team. 10.5 runs per game) and the double-barreled pitching of Amber Reyes and Dezi Marmolejo. Those two have combined for 168 strikeouts in 139 innings and Reyes leads the universe with a 0.75 ERA.

The rangy junior Reyes has hit .525 with 52 runs while senior Marmolejo is at .538 with seven home runs and 38 RBI. Not to be outdone, senior Anngie Salinas carries a .543 average with a team-high 45 RBI, for a team that has slugged an amazing 110 extra-base hits. Salinas herself has 23, including 14 doubles.

North (23-8 overall) has a solid .398 team mark at the dish, good for eight runs per outing. Jackie Longoria is the fire-starter with a .543 average and 43 runs. Sophomore Natalie Rodriguez (.529) has driven in 38 runs and added eight pitching wins, while classmate Hope Rodriguez (.533) has bombed seven homers and also driven in 38. Seniors Caro Garcia and Maria Garza have combined for 53 runs batted in.