It was after they had rallied to tie it up at a set apiece Tuesday night. Playing on the road against a Vela unit that had beaten them back in first-round action, and trying to rebound from a loss in their last match, the Lady Coogs got what they needed.

In the huddle between the second and third set, senior leader Nat Rodriguez became even more animated than usual.

“One play at a time,” she barked at her attentive teammates. “Fight back … work for every point! Don’t give up on any play, and we’re gonna win!”

True to her word, North came out of the break with a determination to win, dominating the action the rest of the way to cap a 3-1 victory which made its district record 4-2, same for the losing home side.

Rodriguez is just one of those rare birds, a kid who walks it and talks it, leads her friends by example, and never fails to pump enthusiasm into the effort. Coach Richard Tressler, watching the game at Vela, commented that it’s the same with his North softball unit.

“She’s just a fighter, plain and simple,” he noted. “She goes all out and she wants to win, very badly. What a great kid.”

Tressler’s colleague, Raul McCallum, intuits what he has in the excitable and agile senior. Knowing her breakneck style and fiery ways, he sometimes lets Nat take control of the huddle. The results, particularly Tuesday’s clutch result, speak for themselves.

“Man I am glad that’s over,” he joked after the Lady Coogs wrapped up the win with terrific defense, superior energy, and better execution than the opponent. “Everybody contributed tonight, we got to the spots, dug them and frustrated them … once we got over the hill from the first set, the girls really fought for it. They played with pride for what’s on their shirts!”

McCallum, in his first as head coach after a long reign as an assistant, agreed that Rodriguez, with her hustle and will to succeed, sets the tone.

“I can sit back and let her take the leadership at times because she knows what she’s doing,” said the coach, whose team then defeated Donna North Saturday in preparation for a huge road match at EHS Tuesday against the resurgent Lady Bobcats. “The girls listen to her, they respect her, and that’s important.”

For Vela it was another promising start to a Rivalry Game that did not end well. Two weeks ago the Lady Sabes blasted out to a seemingly safe margin against EHS, only to drop the match in five. This time, they worked well in set one with junior Glenys Maldonado popping the ball with strength and flair, but midway through the second set, North adjusted defensively to threaten the bombs that Maldonado produces in bunches. Gradually, McCallum’s crew gained the advantage while Vela faltered for a series of unforced errors.

Vela led 5-1 and then 12-10 and 16-12 before North surged, with Kaitlyn Lozano feathering a pair of kills and Jevanah Burrows playing well at the net. When springy youngster Evana Ramos pounded a winner off the net and down, it was 19-all, and from there Rodriguez came up with a dig and then a kill. It was 23-all until Jasmine Barajas came up large with a smack, leading to a 25-23 North edge.

Then came the Pep Talk and in set three the Lady Coogs got three quick scores from Rodriguez and went on a tear, opening up a 15-7 advantage when Cortney Ortiz rose to intercept a wayward Vela bump and slam it home.

With Brandi Garcia starring with serves and digs, the Lady Coogs soon clinched the set, a kill from Gianna Arganbright and another Barajas winner ending the drill.

North led most of the way in the fourth set, at one point going up 11-4 with another Burrows block score and a great one-handed save from Drina Garza highlighting the run.

Vela got it together to rally into a 14-14 tie as Maldonado found the range, but North was ready for the surge, answering with flawless team play and more heroics from Barajas at net. Once again, the Lady Sabes worked with urgency, eventually securing a 20-20 tie on another Maldonado missile. But three late miscues sealed the denouement against them, with Rodriguez applying the finishing touches of a 25-22 clincher with a resounding shot to floor.

“We dedicated this match to Coach Mac for having faith in us,” she said after the victory. “As a speaking captain, I have to play that role, I tell the girls that it’s OK to make mistakes, everyone does. We just have to keep focus – which we didn’t do Saturday against Weslaco – and make up for it, on the next play. Each set, every play is different … I think the team listens to me because they know I am playing as hard as I can, for the team.”

Spoken like a bona fide leader, which is what Rodriguez is. Her zest for the challenge and unrivaled intensity go well with a whimsical, playful side that helps keep everyone loose.

Truth be told … Nat’s All That!

NOTES: Vela and North are tied at 6-2 heading into the week, with Weslaco atop the league at 6-1, while EHS lost in five against Weslaco East Saturday to drop to 4-3 overall. East is 4-4. Vela takes on Weslaco next in a match with serious implications, while North tackles EHS this week, and then East.