VELA BASEBALL LAST DIAMOND UNIT ALIVE AFTER QUARTERS WIN OVER LOS FRESNOS
SAN JUAN – There are only a handful of such magic moments in one’s life, tableaux that will linger in the memory a lifetime. Many people do not have any such glorious times, actually. But the SaberCats – luxuriating in the glow of a champion’s rally, a test of character – have one, a keepsake to last forever.
They didn’t want to leave, it seemed, after Game Three was over Saturday. And who could blame them, after they advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time ever, and in doing so became the last Valley team standing in the postseason, baseball or softball.
They earned the right to dogpile on the infield, to get the TV interviews, and to endure the endless photograph parade that usually obtains in such a classic situation. Vela earned everything it got last weekend and it didn’t come easy. It took some heroics from the usual (and unusual) suspects, at the right time, against a frightfully dogged Los Fresnos crew. But it happened, and no one will ever forget the feeling of victory, the sweet taste of success at a high level. Timeless.
The Sabes lived up to their considerable potential, overcoming an uncharacteristically offbeat loss here Thursday to rally for not one win, but two, sending the Falcons home empty-handed and themselves on to the regional semifinals. They will oppose San Antonio Churchill this week, and it will be a bear of a task against a club with as many talented, college-bound stars, maybe more, than they have. But they are ready to keep the drive alive, to build another layer of thrills upon a season full of memorable portraits.
After having scored seven runs in the sixth Friday in Game Two, erasing a 5-2 deficit and stunning the Falcons in their home nest, Vela went to work in the rubber match on a bright, intensely hot afternoon, chips on the table.
Nico Rodriguez took to the hill for this all-important clash, and he survived a rocky first, in which the Falcons stole three bases and took a 1-0 lead. Soon, the junior righty was rocking and rolling right along, with incredible curveball success. By the time he exited in the sixth after the vexing pitch count mandated thus, he had given Vela a real chance to advance.
The Sabes (29-5, a program record for wins) matched Los Fresnos with a run of their own in the bottom of the first when Eric Martinez lofted a pop that evaded the defenders on a breezy day.
From there, zeroes into the fifth when the Falcons pushed across another tally, coming dangerously close to more. But Rodriguez fanned the side to end the threat, and his mates came to the dish bent on putting together some more late-game excellence.
It came in the way of three straight singles, all with two outs and two strikes, the second from junior infielder (spoiler alert) Ramsey Amador, driving in two, and the third from Martinez, who singled up the middle to give the Sabes a 4-2 advantage.
Amador, a fine pitching prospect who had not thrown an inning all year due to lingering shoulder issues, came valiantly on in the sixth after Los Fresnos edged to within 1 at 4-3. He got out of trouble there, and then finished the job in the seventh, the end coming on a snappy 5-4-3 double play that showed clutch execution at its finest.
Then came the fun times, the piles and the hugs, the jokes, and the relief. While the relentless Amador did his star turn in front of the Channel 5 mike, Martinez and classmate Yulean Torrellas (excellent series all around) cruised behind him for a little dance-razzing, all live.
That is Vela, cocky and having a ball, willing to swing from the heels, go for broke, and strap it on against any and all foes. This team is confident, it knows it’s making history every day, and it is living, as they say, the dream.
The be-goggled Rodriguez, who was mint with a fine mound performance, said that after Game Two, he and the guys felt the buzz.
“We had some momentum, and yeah, this was some pressure today, to go out and take the ball for the biggest game,” the lanky junior said. “But we have been able to regroup when we needed it, to fight through it.”
Coach Jaime Perez would agree. He has been teaching his kids to grind it out, pitch by pitch, day by day and could not be any happier about their production.
“What a series, this is something I will always remember,” he said through grins in the postgame parade. “We were a little banged up, it was a hot day, but we found a way to grind it out. Our depth is a plus, always, and in this series we needed it. We’re writing another chapter, and this was just a great series of baseball.”
The Sweet 16 opponent, Churchill, is 23-9 after beating district rival Madison in three games at the regional quarter stage. The Chargers lost twice to Madison in league play and dropped the first game of the playoff series before rallying to defeat the Mavericks twice to advance. This is a pitching-rich club with a slew of college signees on board, including one hurler going to Texas A&M next season.
Vela advances to the Rare Air as the first city squad to do so since the 2015 EHS bunch made it that far, eventually losing to SA Johnson in the region semis. That was the memorable team with Jaime Alvarado, Matt Trevino, and John Henry Gonzalez, among others. Also a sparkplug for that team was Ryan Amador, from the same brood that produced Ramsey of Vela.
NOTES: Vela heads onward with center fielder Matt de la Cruz nursing an elbow injury, and must hope that the senior standout will be able to go against Churchill, perhaps as a DH. He’s hit in the .370s all season and given the club outstanding outfield play. His older brother, Alec, was on hand to watch the clincher with equally fabled basketball teammate Ryan Garza. Other luminaries included Johnny Davila (Johnny D!) and Ryan Rodriguez, a pair of super horsehide kids who got the program going in the right direction back in the day.