JAGS BREAK INTO PLAYOFFS WITH CLUTCH
WIN AT HOME OVER RAIDERS
There were times, on this night of nights, when the baseball ghosts of the past attempted to encroach on the proceedings, the baseball Jags playing not to lose, rather than to simply win.
But one by one, they stepped up to show what they were made of, that the long tenure of frustration was at an end. Econ refused to succumb to the pressure when it counted Tuesday, and as a result, carved out the first postseason opportunity in 14 years.
The 4-3, eight-inning victory at home against Pharr North was not a masterpiece in some ways, as the Jags jumped on top, only to see the Raiders come back and tie the game with the cards on the table in the seventh. It left 10 on base, and yes, Econ was not perfect in this mammoth challenge but the kids all proved that they wanted this thing, gotcho bad.
After a wild pitch sent in the winning tally in the bottom of the eighth, the Orange erupted, mobbing Coach Rigo Sanchez, giddy fans streaming out onto the diamond to take part in a celebration that had been more than a decade in the making.
This night, when they had a chance to throw it away, they grabbed it, held it, and made history a reality on the East Side.
“We had the momentum early but we let up, we started to put some pressure on ourselves,” said Sanchez, the leader of the pack as a center field standout back in 2003, when the Jags last tasted the playoff nectar. “We had a bad inning here or there but we gradually were able to pull it out. This year has all been about learning to deal with the pressure.”
Sanchez’s club struck first with a two-run double from burly senior star Ismael “Mayo” Lopez and held a 3-1 lead through the sixth. Defensive gems from catcher Ralphie Galvan helped the effort, while Lopez steamed along with a two-hitter until the seventh, when he reached the cusp of the mandatory pitch limit after having fanned 10. He was relieved by senior third baseman Gerardo de Leon (2 for 3 at the plate) and the Raiders turned a wimpy seeing-eye single into a tie.
Extra innings, after the Jags had found their spirit sorely tested. How would they respond?
“In years past, in that situation, we would have put our heads in a hole, and probably not have been able to come back,” remarked Sanchez, whose club will take on 31-6A champ Los Fresnos in bi-district. “But they came back, they regained their poise, and that’s the key, we did not let the pressure get to us.”
De Leon worked his way through the eighth, hitting a batter and allowing a single with two outs. But Lopez, now at third, fielded the next ball cleanly and threw on to first to end the frame, bringing the Jags to bat. Rally time.
With one out and a man on, Lee Maldonado laid an exquisite bunt down the first-base line and sped to first safely when the pitcher’s ball-in-glove tag resulted in a bobble. Eli Alanis then followed with another bien hecho bunt, past the mound to load the bags, as Econ (and its coach) showed extra-inning guts with some Small Ball. With the formidable Lopez at the plate, the Raiders uncorked a wild one, sending Christian Gaytan home with the most important run in the past 14 seasons.
Econ had come up with a super catch of a foul pop near the North dugout an inning earlier and as stated, every Jag made a difference Tuesday. That included speedy, bespectacled Pedro Juarez, who was 2 for 2 before being ejected for throwing the bat on a base hit, a call that is still being questioned, by the way.
But no matter, the Jags had the juice, and are now onward, and the magic that unfolded Tuesday night was something to see. Long the doormat of the league, this program has been improving for three seasons, and finally put the memories of old to rest. They’re in, bro, and that’s a fact!
NOTES: This season marks a milestone for the program, as for the first time ever, all four Econ boys’ teams made the playoffs. Plus, the track group sent a solid crew to the regionals in San Antonio.