RIO GRANDE CITY – At this point on the curve, coaches take one of two tacks into the fray: dance with who “brung ya,” as old Texas football Coach Darrell Royal used to say, meaning keep things the same. Or, get busy with some well-played tinkering.

For Vela Coach Jon Maples, last week’s area round softball series against Laredo Alexander offered an opportunity to get creative, and his moves led directly to a sharp 5-0 win in Game One Thursday.

Moving his Small Ball unit into the lineup was mint, as the Lady SaberCats bunted for four hits, ran the bases with abandon, and rode a 2-hitter from the brilliant “Monie” Reyes into the next round.

After beating Alexander in two, Vela will now oppose Harlingen South in the regional quarterfinals. The team has a program-record 31 wins and continues to make history as the most successful club in the school’s annals.

The strategy paid off in the third inning of a scoreless battle Thursday as Gaby Villarreal and Evan Perez bunted for singles and Taylor Chavez showed her unselfish side by sacrificing the runners onward. Maples and his staff noted the depth of the Lady Bulldog infield – playing deep, and none of the corner kids was going to win the 40-yard dash – and acted accordingly. After Darissa Buenrostro drove in a run with a groundout, second baseman Kameryn Casares plated another with a perfect bunt hit.

The lineup switches showed that the Lady Sabes have the depth to make some moves, and they executed perfectly. Casares, a fine fielder at second who has been in and out of the batting order in 2018, chipped in a hard single for another run in the fifth, and Vela put it away with two more in the sixth as Alyssa Alaniz recorded a bunt single, Villarreal a double, and Perez a run-scoring safety.

With Reyes striking out 11 batters, that was more than enough; she overpowered the late-swinging Lady Bulldogs with regularity, and kept her pitch count to a minimum in preparation for the rest of the series. She was aided by two early putouts from Aly Cedillo at third, and by a couple of steals from Chavez. The defense was pretty calm all day, as the ball seldom left the catcher’s mitt in Game One.

Maples did another smart thing before the area series even began, securing a Thursday game and then a day of rest before Saturday’s potential doubleheader out west. Though Reyes proved her mettle by hurling all three games in a two-day span to beat Weslaco in bi-district, Vela made sure that she got a day to kick back this time. Saturday the Lady Sabes clobbered Alexander 9-3 and prepared for South.

The Lady Hawks (28-8) were leading the way in 32-6A until a late slide due to injuries on the mound curtailed the title run. Elias Martinez, long-time San Benito coach now at South, gained his 500th career win this season and can always be counted on to bring some strategy and trickery. This team split with San Benito and Weslaco in district and seems to be getting healthy and dangerous again. It got past P-SJ-A Memorial in bi-district in three games, and then defeated South San in area, one-game takes all. The program has faced city schools five times in the past, with one series win, and four losses, all to EHS (2011, 2013, 2015, 2016).

The Lady Bobcats also bested South early this season, but will beat no one else in 2018. In a major league upset, they were taken down by Eagle Pass in area, coming back from a Game One loss to even the match before falling, 7-6, in the third and final clash, Saturday in Laredo.

That means that San Benito (26-8) held up its end of the bargain – to create the Clash of the Titans in Round Three – but EHS could not. The Lady Greyhounds will take on scrappy Eagle Pass with a Sweet 16 berth at stake, leaving the deflated Lady ‘Cats (30-8) on the sidelines.

Game One was an 8-inning loss propelled by six walks surrendered and fielding errors (seven unearned runs allowed). EHS came back to pound the Lady Eagles, 8-2, as Erika Cortez slammed a pair of homers good for 5 RBI in support of sound hurling from Amber Reyes. This set up Game Three later Saturday.

NOTES: Should Vela be victorious against South it would move to the regional semis to face the winner of a series between SA Warren (23-5) and SA O’Connor (22-8). Both advanced to the third round with upsets, Warren over Lake Travis and O’Connor against the nationally ranked nine from SA Johnson.