VELA STOMPS NORTH, 16-5 AS HOMER BARRAGE
PUTS SABERCATS INTO FIRST PLACE

It became apparent after the top of the fifth Friday, when all hell threatened to break loose, that neither team has been binge-re-watching “Friends” lately. All the bad blood of a Rivalry Game, put higher to boil by the events of March 13, simmered ominously with fans rowdy, coaches fired up, and players eying each other warily.

After North had narrowed the gap to 8-5 on the road thanks to a two-run homer from the redoubtable Argelio Guajardo, here lurked the makings of the same mess that occurred last month at North. The Coogs had come from way down to stun Vela in the league opener, fists had flown, and it was just crazy.

Friday, instead of letting the pressure get to them, the SaberCats ruined any sort of dream of a second comeback by blasting eight runs onto the board – two three-run bombs as the linchpin – to dispatch the Coogs, 16-5 and claim first place in District 31-6A at 7-1. They let it go, the animosity that is, and also let loose with some prodigious drives that sailed out of the crackerbox and into the night.

Junior Nico Rodriguez slammed one that is probably still rolling through the orange grove at Vela, and Jonathan Navarro finished the rout with another three-run shot. Earlier the Sabes had gotten a solo shot from junior Marc Esquivel – against his old team, of course – to halve a 2-0 deficit in the second.

When Coach Jaime Perez’ nine exploded for six in the third for a 7-2 advantage, things had looked dope. The rumbles from the dugouts and the catcalls from the stands, well, that is something we may just have to expect from this matchup from here on out, because it is real obvious that the teams do not party together much.

At any rate, doubles by Matt de la Cruz and Yulian Torrellas paced the loud third inning and Vela also drew three walks while sending 12 men to the plate and going up by 5.

The salty rivals exchanged runs in the fourth, Guajardo poked one out to left field in the fifth, and Rodriguez relieved. Vela starter Aaron Galvan did well in his continued comeback from injury, fanning 10 and allowing just four hits; one was a two-run double by Frankie Zuniga in the second, and one was a run-scoring double from Junior Almeida in the fourth. Galvan walked five but his fastball appears to be regaining velocity while his curve and change are as potent as ever.

Galvan is one of a number of veterans leading the charge for Vela, 17-4 overall.

“This is a great senior class, one of my first I have grown since taking over the team in 2014,” said Perez, whose bunch takes on EHS Tuesday and P-SJ-A Southwest after that. “These are guys, Aaron, Matt, Adam Alviso, who have worked to establish the foundation of our program, and I can’t say enough about our seniors.”

Alviso in particular has been clutch in 2018, throwing to the team’s big win over P-SJ-A two weeks ago and coming into this week with a 4-0 record and a tiny-tiny 0.33 ERA. Esquivel has been almost as fine, with a 5-1 mark and 1.54 ERA; he’s fanned 41 batters in 27 innings while Rodriguez, one of the most versatile kids in the league, has 45 strikeouts now in just 25 innings. Slimmed down and reaching into the high 80s routinely from the mound, sometimes more, Rodriguez shows all the signs of becoming a star real quick.

Truly, this one was wound tight from the start, based on the madness of their first encounter. Perez says that his team welcomed the chance to get even with North, and that the money games seem to bring out the best in his first-place club.

“We had a big win over Moody, played Calallen close, stayed right with state-ranked Rouse out of Leander,” he explained. “We play better against the tough teams, and the thing is, things can change real quick at Vela, the field can be a game-changer because the ball flies out of here. And the wind was blowing out tonight, it has been blowing harder for longer lately than any year I can recall.”

The coach finished with his assessment of the extracurricular action that has been almost as interesting as the baseball between Coogs and Sabes.

“We try to teach the kids to be calm, not let their emotions get the best of them,” he stressed. “We try to keep it between the lines, just play the game, the coaches and I have been working on that, not having any negativity. Emotions are strong in big games between rivals: we all know that. We tell our kids, ‘Focus on what’s important, baseball.’”

NOTES: Vela now has 19 home runs in 21 games, as Ramsey Amador (.529 average, five taters), Eric Martinez (four dingers) have led a charge to 8 runs per game as a team. Freshman catcher Jaime Perez Jr. continues to hone impressive skills behind the plate, and is batting a cool .436 so far. Vela has won seven in a row with six to play in 31-6A.

North gets back at it this week with Southwest and Pharr North on tap. EHS (4-4) beat Econ (1-7) Friday and still has designs on the fourth playoff spot.