EHS only city squad of three to move onward

It seemed impossible, after it had seemed at least probable, but then unlikely, and yet soon quite possible. Locked in a mammoth winner-take-all struggle at home in bi-district, the Lady Cougars refused to give in, even after That One Bad Inning, and seemed poised on the edge of a miraculous comeback against Harlingen South.

But no.

North expired Thursday, losing a first-round playoff series for the first time since 2010, and the 8-7 eight-inning defeat was beyond excruciating. Coach Richard Tressler’s team booted away a 4-4 tie in the top of the eighth, allowing the visiting Lady Hawks to plate four runs. But earlier the Lady Coogs had rallied from a 4-2 deficit with single tallies in the sixth and seventh, so spirit was high for yet more gutsy battling, something this program has been known for in seasons past.

It started with a meh, as North had just one runner aboard in the eighth with two down. But then, more fireworks, as they drew four walks in a row and were the beneficiaries of an ill-timed balk. Now it was 8-7, South and the dugout was absolutely nuclear, the girls thinking that the victory was there for the taking.

The South manager had made no fewer than four pitching switches in the wild inning, partly to find someone who might throw a strike but also to slow down the momentum of the surging home nine.

Finally, one step short of the summit, North grounded out to end the inning, the game, and the season. But it had been an amazing night on which the Valley’s gold standard in softball fought for its playoff life with grit and fire. 

EARLY RETURNS

At the beginning, senior Vanessa Garces, recovered from a late-season knee injury, slammed a solo home run for a 1-0 lead in the first. However the Lady Hawks scratched for a pair in the second, only to see North – these two were very evenly matched across the board – rebound with doubles from Tiff Chapa and Garces to tie it at 2.

Then it settled into a grinder, North missing a golden chance in the third when it loaded the bases with no outs but failed to produce a run. The Lady Hawks sailed back in front in the sixth with a two-run moon shot bomb that clanged right off the top of the scoreboard in center, but again, in this game of Pong, Tressler’s kids rallied. Caro Garcia led off the frame with a ringing double, one of 11 North hits, and then little outfielder Jessica Diaz smashed one over the center fielder’s head to make it 4-3.

After Jackie Longoria set down the enemy in the seventh, the Lady Coogs came up and made it happen again. After singles from Nat Rodriguez (3 for 4 and hilarious bench chatter) and Hope Rodriguez (2 for 4, both Rodriguez stars are back for more in 2018), Maria Garza executed a brilliant run-scoring bunt.

At that stage it looked like North would roll on to the win but Garcia’s blast into center was stymied just enough by the wind to hold it in the park for out No. 3.

The less said about the eighth the better, as North finally broke in the field with those three miscues, South racing around the bases as the ball bounded here and there, away from Lady Coog gloves.

Still, this team had the guts to respond, and in its half, as stated mounted a monumental comeback that nearly tipped the scales back the other way for a final time.

It was not to be, and the program is out of the running at its earliest juncture since 2010. Seniors leaving the scene are numerous, as in Longoria, Garces, Garza, and Garcia. But the Rodriguez Girls, promising freshman Seci Lopez, and Diaz, among others, will return.

North had beaten South twice in 2017 but could not ice the one-game series for win No. 3 of the season.

CITY TALES

In other playoff action, EHS defeated Weslaco East to move on, winning the first game 5-1 and the second 12-2. Vela was clobbered by San Benito 11-1 Thursday and then lost 12-0 at home Friday to drop out. The Lady Bobcats, who ended North’s three-year stranglehold on the league title, advanced on to area with a 21-game winning streak, and will face McAllen High this week.

The Lady Bulldogs were victors over Eagle Pass in bi-district and come in with a 22-6 overall mark. They tied for the 30-6A title with city mate Memorial after ripping through an eight-game streak of triumphs following a 2-2 league start, averaging 12 runs per game during that stretch

McAllen pulled off non-league wins over Weslaco and Mission Vets, among other eventual playoff teams, and got sidetracked by San Benito and Weslaco East before league play began. This series is going to be competitive, with the Lady ‘Cats considered a slight favorite by most observers.

The Lady Bulldogs hit .361 as a team and have slugged 13 home runs, but have also struck out 98 times while walking on just 60 occasions. Their fielding is susceptible (60 errors on the season) but senior pitcher Alexis Gutierrez (19-3, 110 K’s) is a horse on the hill.

The winner in area will take on either Weslaco (20-2) or SA Southwest (19-11). The Pantherettes, who went to state last year, appear to be the prohibitive fave there after blasting P-SJ-A Memorial in bi-district; Southwest defeated La Joya to reach this stage.