‘SHERIFF’ SALINAS LEADS POSSE TO WIN
For one team, it was an excruciating defeat, especially after it had scrapped its way into the lead, shown superior desire for five innings, and appeared on the verge of a key road verdict. For the other, it was yet another manic comeback triumph, as it washed away a poor start and continued to build momentum behind a “rebuilding” rise to prominence.
EHS was the former Tuesday, and the 5-4 loss at North was a kick in the teeth, making the Bobcats 2-3 in District 31-6A. Bunting and running, hustling and straining against the odds (injuries and youth), Coach Robert Valdez’s crew hammered out a 4-0 lead through three innings and held on into the sixth, when it all came crumbling down.
After catcher Robert Flores slammed a two-run triple in the sixth, and scored on the play by error, the Coogs (3-2) were within one. And an inning later, North – churning through three Bobcat pitchers in the frame – plated the winning runs, the final knock coming on a single by senior infielder Joey Salinas.
For the Bobcats then, a bitter blow in an ongoing season of struggle. The team has already lost frontline pitcher Johnathan Gonzalez to a season-ending injury. Tuesday, despite Valdez’ wily wrangling, a solid mound effort from sometime starter E.J. Alanis, and some amazing defense from first baseman Chris Nieto, it wasn’t meant to be.
That is because the Coogs, under Rick Valdez – Robert’s brother as most know – refused to quit. Salinas, who got the game-winning hit after the ‘Cats intentionally walked dangerous Argelio Guajardo to get to him, says that the exciting rally was par for the course, in several ways.
“This year it has been like that four times, teams walking Gelo to get to me, and I have come through with three hits,” said the lanky veteran, who was also excellent afield in the Rivalry Game. “Last year, same thing with Saul [Garza] and Carlo [Servin]. Teams always want to get to me and my job is to make them pay.”
Salinas added that the comeback, one of several the Cardiac Coogs (as their manager has named them) have made in 2018, is part of the leadership element.
“The guys who have been around, our job is to keep everyone up, make sure they don’t quit,” Salinas explained. “We do it in the huddle before the game, during the innings, whatever. The thing is, never let anyone see you’re nervous, even if you might be.”
THE ACTION AS IT UNWOUND
EHS started the night with active base-running, taking chances and going for broke. The ‘Cats notched a pair in the second on a massive triple by senior infielder Jesse Garcia, one of the few seniors in a lineup littered with newbies. In the third they parlayed a walk and a double-steal into two more tallies, as junior Alanis and freshman catcher Jorge Salinas delivered base hits, sophomore Nathan Ochoa bunting in a run. Salinas is a good-looking prospect behind the plate, a switch-hitter with a level stroke.
North, low on energy in the early going, brought in sophomore strongman Jacob Alvarado to replace pitcher Mike Anzaldua, and the worm started to turn. The Coog sixth started with a hit batsmen and an infield error, before with one out Flores cranked a prodigious 400-foot drive that nearly left the spacious North yard. He rumbled around to third and came home on a poor throw from the outfield. Flores went 2 for 3, threw out a runner trying to steal in the fourth, and helped get the fire burning in the latter innings with his chatter and grit.
With Alvarado blanking the Bobcats for four innings, the stage was set for the latest rally, spirited cumbia music blasting as the bottom of the seventh arrived. When the Coogs got the lead man on, the drive was seemingly stalled when the runner was picked off first on a laser from backstop Salinas of EHS. But Junior Almeida walked and stole second, coming home on a clutch single by senior Jo Jo Munoz. Now the bops on the loud speaker changed to the dreaded “Gasolina,” and one got the feeling that the visitor, struggling to complete, was in for it.
Sure enough, the bases were soon loaded for Salinas. When the ‘Cats walked Guajardo, junior shortstop Frankie Zuniga, perched at third, called out, “That’s stupid!” He ended up being right.
The first pitch to Salinas was a rocket foul past third that nearly decapitated a hot-footing Zuniga, and the next yielded the clinching looper for the win. Done!
Salinas, who recently won the state championship in a student law enforcement competition up in Houston, was on the spot, and he delivered.
“We got a guy picked off but we went over to him and we picked him right back up,” said the hero. “According to what people were saying, we weren’t going to be that good this year. But according to what we know, we think that any team can beat any other on a given night.”
It’s like Munoz says about this year’s Blue and Gold: a similar last-ditch win against Vela to start district play, and now this thriller.
“We live on the edge, man, that’s the way it is.”
NOTES: Vela scored a super win Thursday, topping previously unbeaten P-SJ-A to forge a three-way tie for first; the SaberCats are 5-1 after the 3-1 decision, tied with the Bears and North, which clobbered P-SJ-A Memorial 11-0. North hosts the Bears in a huge 31-6A brawl Tuesday.
EHS stomped Southwest, 11-5 Thursday to rise to 3-3; the ‘Cats play 4-2 Pharr North Tuesday with a chance to tie the Raiders and stay in the playoff hunt.