She was kicking back Friday as the Lady Sabes wrapped up the second spot in District 31-6A with an 18-2 pulverizing of Econ, leading the cheers at times, holding a bat at others. Just generally enjoying a break, was Naomi “Monie” Reyes, because she knows that this week, the season really begins.
Reyes, the senior hurler who has sent 202 disgruntled batters back to the dugout in 2018, watched as her mates dismantled the Lady Jags to finish 11-3 in district, 27-5 overall. Starting Thursday, she will be back in business as Vela kicks off a very difficult bi-district challenge. Also 27-5, the Weslaco Pantherettes, one of two teams in Valley history to make the state final 4, will be waiting for a three-game collision.
“I am super excited for that series, I know the fans are planning on having lots of noise makers, to be rowdy to support us,” said Reyes, who is 14-1 with an 0.84 ERA and just 59 hits allowed in 108 innings. “We want to get all hyped for the series because we know Weslaco is pretty tough.”
The key to the series, according to the team leader, is mistakes. Or lack thereof.
“We need to play clean softball, no errors,” Reyes explained. “Hit the ball, string together hits, not worry about home runs, have smart at-bats. I think we have matured a lot this season and we’re ready to take on a very good team like Weslaco.”
Reyes can make her judgments because as one of the few Vela seniors, her credibility is unimpeachable. She has been a program stalwart since transferring from EHS after freshman year. Faced with the arduous task of replacing the school’s first fine pitcher, Shayla Abbott, Reyes has performed in excellent fashion for three stellar seasons, getting tougher to hit with each campaign. She says the team has continued to improve as well.
“This year we have peaked as a program, compared to the past,” the Texas Southern signee opined. ”But we can still get better and that is what this series represents. We can do better, we have the team to win, and who knows, after that, we might keep it going far. Bottom line, we have prepared for this series, working on covering bunts, hitting the cutoff, not allowing extra bases, stuff like that. We’re fired up and ready to play.”
Vela faced Weslaco earlier in the year at a tournament, losing 8-0, but Coach Jon Maples – whose impossibly cute 5-year-old son has become a good luck charm as batboy – reminded that the Lady Sabes pounded the Pantherettes in scrimmage action.
“I think this is the best first-round matchup in the Valley,” he said. “I mean, that’s 54 wins between us. I don’t think the girls are feeling like they can’t compete; we know that Weslaco has a great program but we think our chances are pretty good.”
Weslaco ended up third in 32-6A thanks to a pair of losses to champ San Benito but has won 7 of 8 heading into the series that starts Thursday in the Mid-Valley. That club has shut out the opponent 13 times this year and averaged 10 runs per game in district. The Pantherettes split with Harlingen South – No. 2 from the league – but the Lady Hawks (24-7) managed a split with San Benny and will take on P-SJ-A Memorial in bi-district.
Econ finished 0-14 in district, plating 30 runs in 14 games while surrendering 233. But the Lady Jags return most of the cast for another run in 2019. One gal who will not be back, however, is fleet-footed center fielder Destiny Gonzalez, a standout contributor for four seasons who completed the run Friday against Vela with her usual flawless fielding performance. On the roster she leaves behind promising prospects (and sisters) Faith and Hope Gonzalez for Coach Lonnie Garza to build around, but lil’ No. 1 will be missed.
REST OF THE STORY
Another playoff series will pit 31-6A champ EHS (27-5) against Weslaco East (18-11) after the Lady Wildcats squeezed into the dance with a comeback victory over Brownsville Hanna Friday. East does not score a ton but is also a decent pitch/defense outfit. The Lady Wildcats went 6-8 in district, getting outscored 71-19 in eight losses, making them a heavy underdog against the Lady Bobcats in the series starting Thursday in Edinburg.
EHS wound up league play with a 10-3 win over Pharr North Friday and bangs away for a dozen runs a night. The Blonde Bomber, Katy Truitt, was at it again last week, nailing three more dingers to give her nine for the year, the most in EHS annals; teammates Erika Cortez and Kristee Salas have six each. Taylor Chavez of Vela has hammered a Vela record eight bombs while Hope Rodriguez of North has gone yardward seven times in perhaps the city’s finest power showing in history. Last year Dezi Marmolejo set the short-lived Lady ‘Cat program record with seven taters, by the way. North’s memorable Faith Escobar hammered eight homers in 2012 and nine the next season.
The Lady ’Cats beat East in bi-district last season and also topped McAllen before losing to Weslaco. In the past nine years the team has gone 239-61 and has advanced to the Sweet 16 three times (2010-12). The Lady ‘Cats have a playoff record of 18-8 since 2010 and have failed to reach the third round just once, in 2014.
North is up against a weighty challenge in bi-district, as the Lady Cougars put their 22-10 record up against Valley No. 1 San Benito (23-7) in a one-game series at home Thursday. The Lady Coogs finished off with a triumph against P-SJ-A and will hope to keep pace with the powerful Lady Greyhounds, who have averaged 12 runs per game over the last month. North put up 12.5 against non-playoff teams in 31-6A but in six tries versus the three teams finishing ahead of it, managed just 19 total runs.
Still, this is a proud program, perhaps the finest in Valley history all told, and will battle for the upset against a familiar foe. The Lady Coogs lost to San Benny, 3-1 in February at the Mission Tourney and the programs have squared off in several playoff series in the past. The Lady ‘Hounds knocked off the Lady Coogs in bi-district 2010, round three in 2011, and round two in 2013. North, which won at least one playoff series in each season from 2011-16, will be looking to advance, following last season’s loss in bi-district to Harlingen South, 8-7 in extra innings. The program is 249-81 the past 10 seasons.