People tend to forget that Vela is, albeit a very successful athletic school, only five years old. This means that the program teams are just now learning how to be winners.

For the baseball team, the latest step in the development to championship level came over the weekend, as the SaberCats rallied from a deflating Game Two defeat Saturday to win the series against Brownsville Hanna.

The clinching 6-5 bi-district victory came hours after the Sabes had been battered around, 14-3 by the Eagles on a seriously hot afternoon. It catapulted Coach Jaime Perez and Co. into the area round of the playoffs, where they will clash with perennial power Laredo Alexander. And it showed the kind of resilience and cool under fire that Perez has been building with his squad since he took over three seasons back.

“The grind is starting to pay off,” said Perez Saturday. “Team unity and pride, we went through some bumps and some mountains, too, there were times this year when we just had to scale some mountains. But you talk about SaberNation, well, we’re part of it, that is what we do at Robert Vela High School.”

Perez is fond of saying that the season is not a sprint, rather a marathon. In bi-district, Vela started the marathon well, taking Game One and then rebounding from a sub-par performance in Game Two to take the series. Last year, the Sabes went three-deep before losing and the coach wants that sort of success to be a commonplace.

“We’re showing maturity, we’re coming together,” he commented. “When we get close to the finish line, we need to attack it, we’re creating the sense that we can compete with anyone, and we expect out guys to respond to any situation with that mentality.”

In the rubber match, R.J. Ochoa slammed a home run to tie the game at 3 after Hanna had gone up, 3-0. Clutch hits from Ramsey Amador and Aaron Galvan put the Sabes over the top, with Amador gaining the Game Three win in relief after a rocky Game Two start. After the ultimate victory, the Sabes now prepared for Alexander, which knocked off Rowe last week, 2-1 and 8-0.

With the bi-district win, the Sabes – competing again in 6A now and loving it – illustrated that they are learning what it takes to be winners: coming back from a deficit in a vital contest shows that the program is doing what Perez wants, which is grinding and believing, refusing to fold when the chips are on the table.

GARZA, SERVIN STAR AS NORTH ADVANCES

Friday saw North all over visiting Harlingen, 9-2, as strapping senior Carlo Servin struck out nine on a 3-hitter. The Coogs got three hits each from freshman infielder Junior Almeida and Willy Oyervides to get off to a fine playoff start.

The next day, North advanced to the second round by whipping the Cardinals, and will now face off against McAllen High in the area stage this week.

The standout in the clincher was Saul Garza, who exploded for seven RBI in the 11-7 triumph. He hit a two-run homer and an RBI triple to help North rally from a 6-2 deficit, and put the icing on the cake with a grand slam for the final margin.

Now the Coogs will oppose the Bulldogs of McAllen High, a pitching-rich club that won District 30-6A and defeated Laredo United South in the first round.

NOTES: Last week the Review mis-identified Econ coach Rigo Sanchez as “Rigo Salinas.” As Coach J.J. Leija of EHS – the last baseball coach to lead the Jags to the playoffs, in 2003 – could point out, Sanchez was a heckuva player before he became a successful coach. It takes a village, yawl.

The Jags dropped out of the playoffs Friday after a 6-2 loss to Los Fresnos on the road. But true to form, Sanchez’s Econ bunch battled, and was tied 2-2 in the late innings before faltering.