The old adage that “this team is better than its record might attest” can sometimes be a dodge, a rationalization. But in the case of the baseball Jags, it makes sense, and they showed why at North Tuesday, blistering the Cougars 10-4 with an outstanding overall performance.
Infielder Derick Salinas paced an 11-hit attack with three safeties and four other Econ batters blasted two hits apiece; one, senior Pablo “P.J.” Juarez, went 2 for 2 with three runs scored and also earned the win on the mound. His fine play was just what the Jags (3-8 in 31-6A) needed to pump some life into the effort, and exactly what North (7-4 and loser of three of four) did not need. With the final week of the campaign arriving, the Coogs were in danger of being marooned in the fourth spot after a 6-1 start had them near the ceiling of the league.
Juarez is one of the few veterans that Coach Rigo Sanchez has from last year’s playoff entry, and the coach noted that his senior leader had been pointing toward Tuesday.
“We tried to arrange the rotation so that P.J. could get this start, he really wanted to throw against the Cougars,” said Sanchez, whose club was whipped, 11-1 at home by North in round one. “He hit his spots tonight and the defense helped him out, too. We got out on them early and that was one thing we had talked about, scoring some runs early and getting some momentum.”
Indeed, in the first inning the visitor plated a pair on a two-out double from sophomore Lee Roy Montano, who continues to slash at the plate to good effect in his debut season. After North tied it up in the third with a two-run single off the stick of Joey Salinas – again, he came through with two down after an intentional walk to Argelio Guajardo loaded the sacks – some folks might have looked for the Jags to falter.
But instead, the Orange came roaring on to score two more in the fourth thanks to a Montano triple and a single for a run by Salinas. In the final three frames, Sanchez’ club put six runs on the board for the surprising blowout.
North, which has allowed 40 runs the past four games prior to Friday, gave a lackluster effort and never really got any of its comeback mojo circulating.
Juarez said that though the Jag defense has been up and down in 2018, it was decidedly up for Tuesday.
“Yes, the defense was phenomenal today,” said the bespectacled right-hander who plays the infield on most days. “We put the ball in play on offense, got some hits, and we showed what we can do. I could feel tonight that at the start, North pretty much thought they had us. But we played really well and it feels nice to have a good game. Having a good time with my teammates, having fun with the win.”
The strong work started early for Econ as Salinas executed a 5-to-3 putout in the first with Montano stretching for the throw. The sneaky fast Juarez induced two comebackers in the fifth after striking out the side in the fourth. After Peter Molina relieved in the seventh – Juarez reached the max pitch count of 110 but said he could have finished – Juarez made a fancy glove flip for a putout, short to second. All night the Jags made the plays and competed with confidence. And their manager noticed.
“We needed a strong showing like this,” admitted Sanchez. “We were aggressive at the plate, we were consistent for seven innings. At times this year we have had good innings and not been able to keep it going. Tonight we got some momentum, kept it going, and played well the whole seven innings.”
Hitting leadoff, Molina went 2 for 5 with cleanup man Juarez and fifth hitter Montano productive as well. Besides Salinas’ 3-for-4 night, younger brother Devin collected two hits. The Coogs got six hits but fanned nine times against Juarez.
NOTES: Econ outfought Southwest, 8-6 at home Friday, the same night that EHS was downed by North, 6-4 to drop from the race for good, mathematically. The Coogs scored three runs in the seventh and held off a Bobcat rally for the win, moving to 8-4 and back into a tie for third with Pharr North. Vela (10-1) spanked the Raiders 10-5 Friday for its 10th win in a row.
This week the schedule wraps up with the SaberCats getting P-SJ-A (9-2) at home Tuesday before winding up with the Jags. The Coogs face cellar-dwelling Memorial Tuesday and then the Bears, while Pharr North has Econ and EHS this week. As annoying as it assuredly is, the Jags and Bobcats can help their crosstown brethren at North with a pair of victories. As it stands, EN is already in, but a third seed is always a better lick than a fourth.