Dragons outhit East Central in 28-5A clash
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Even on days when the ball isn’t jumping off the bat, Southwest is a better hitting team than most. When their offense is raging, the Dragons can overpower even an outstanding hitting team.
That happened in the non-district season, when Southwest run-ruled Smithson Valley, then-No. 1 in the Express-News area rankings. It occurred again Tuesday, when the Dragons (23-7, 6-1) claimed a 7-1 victory over District 28-5A rival East Central.
With the win at East Central, district-leading Southwest clinched a playoff berth. The Hornets (19-6, 4-3) dropped to third place by virtue of their second-consecutive district loss.
“Everyone says that hitting is contagious,” Southwest sophomore pitcher Caitlin Terrazas said. “Whenever our leader steps up and does it, it makes the game 10 times more fun.”
The Dragons qualified for their sixth-consecutive playoff appearance under coach Sandra Hernandez. Southwest reached the area round last year and have advanced to the Region IV quarterfinals twice.
Southwest is No. 3 and the Hornets are No. 4 in the current Express-News rankings.
East Central swept the Dragons last year, which was a key factor in the Hornets sharing the district title with them. The victory completed a sweep of the season series for Southwest, which won the first meeting 8-7 in nine innings.
“We’ve been scoring a lot of runs,” Southwest coach Sandra Hernandez said. “We had 11 against South San Friday and seven tonight. I couldn’t be more pleased with the way we’re hitting the ball.”
Southwest mustered 12 hits Tuesday, while Terrazas limited the Hornets to three. The more telling statistic was that East Central left nine runners on base, while Southwest stranded five.
“We had some hard hits,” East Central coach Megan McCutcheon said. “We were making good contact. It seemed like it was going right to them. Last time we played them, we were hitting the ball in the gaps.”
The Hornets actually scored first, with two outs in the first inning. Sophomore shortstop Haydi Bugarin walked, stole second and reached third on errant throw. Bugarin scores on an infield single by senior Taylor Doege.
Dragons shortstop Krystal Salinas made diving stop to prevent it from being a double.
“Krystal Salinas came up huge today,” Hernandez said. “She had one ball go off the tip of her glove. Other than that, she was really solid. I think we had most of their hits went to shortstop. And we had one big play (in the sixth) from our center fielder, Liz, on a line drive.”
Terrazas induced a ground out that enabled her to get out of the inning, leaving East Central with Doege on base. Hailey Reynolds singled with one out in the second, but the Hornets’ potential threat ended with the bases loaded.
It was the last time the Hornets advanced a runner past second base.
East Central only hit five balls out of the infield against the Southwest pitcher. Interestingly, Terrazas recorded no strikeouts, while walking four. Each of those bases on balls were issued in the first four innings.
Terrazas retired eight of the last nine Hornets batters in order.
“It was just working pitches inside and out,” Terrazas said. “I’ve got a pretty great defense, so I just needed to let them work. The defense really helped me tonight and it especially helped that we were scoring runs.”
In the top of the second, senior Kamerie Vidales launched a leadoff single to the center-field fence. With one out, Terrazas slammed a hard RBI single to center. Senior designated player Gabby Flores followed with another run-scoring hit.
“We’re very confident we can get hits,” Flores said. “It’s just a matter of time.”
McCutcheon opted to replace starting pitcher Madison Strunk with Doege in the third inning to disrupt Southwest’s hitting rhythm. She reversed the move in the fifth, after Salinas led off the inning with a double.
Doege is in her fourth season as an East Central starter. Strunk, a junior, also has pitched since she was a freshman. Both have extensive playoff experience, a luxury that the first-year Hornets coach expects to pay dividends as the season winds down.
“It’s going to, hopefully, carry us through the postseason,” McCutcheon said. “I’m very fortunate to have two very strong pitchers. In the past, I’ve had teams that had to rely on one pitcher throughout the entire season. I’m very fortunate to have depth in pitching.”
The idea was to let the Hornets infield do its work, as Terrazas did.
“With Southwest, if you let them get the bat on the ball, they’re a difficult team to beat,” McCutcheon said. “They’re a good team. We tried to come at them with everything we had.”
The Dragons rallied again in the fourth, building a 4-1 lead.
Yanira Fernandez got things started for the Dragons with a one-out single. Terrazas then sent a double to the left-center field power alley.
With runners on second and third, Flores fouled off a ball that had home run distance. She worked the count to 3-2, then dumped a single to left for her second RBI.
“I’m always nervous in that situation,” Flores said, “but you just have to know that you’re going to get a hit.”
Miranda Gonzales added solid RBI single to left, but Angel Lopez’s throw from left field cut down a would-be run at the plate. East Central catcher Hailey Miller applied the tag and nearly threw out Gonzales at second for double play.
In the fifth, Southwest put the game out of reach with a three-run uprising.
Dragons senior center fielder Liz Phillips, who ran down a drive to the left-center gap an inning later, followed Salinas’ double with a bunt single. Senior Kayla Arguello smoked an run-scoring double to the right-field fence and an error on the resulting throw increased Southwest’s lead to 6-1.
Fernandez drove in the game’s final run with an RBI single. East Central right fielder Chelsea Taylor ended the threat by creating a double play on a fly ball. The Southwest runner tagged up on the play. Taylor caught the fly and threw out the runner out at third base.
“Everybody has been getting key hits,” Hernandez said.
In East Central’s half of the inning, Doege delivered her second hit of the night and the Hornets’ first since the second inning. However, East Central wasn’t able to manufacture a run.
Offensively, East Central had to break in a new leadoff hitter. Freshman center fielder Kendall Talley was out with a knee injury. Cara Johnson was promoted from the junior varsity to be her replacement both in the field and in the top batting-order slot.
McCutcheon is trying to improve the Hornets’ mental toughness.
“We’re trying to get the ‘head’ edge,” McCutcheon said. “That’s just one way of winning games. That’s where my focus is. I’m constantly yelling at them to hit the ball hard, so that’s the last thing they hear before they go up to bat.”
Like Southwest, Hornets advanced to the area round in the playoffs last year, for the second time in three seasons under former coach Bryan Waller. Waller now is coaching at Copperas Cove.
McCutcheon, an Ohio University graduate. arrived from Clear Springs. She moved from the suburban Houston school along followed East Central football coach Clint Hartman and girls basketball coach Ginger Hartman (his wife).
The Hornets resume 28-5A play Friday with a game against fourth-place Steele (14-10, 3-4). The game takes place at 7 p.m. in Cibolo.
“The kids understand that’s a game we must win,” McCutcheon said. “Steele’s a good team. We need to come at them hard and put up runs.”
Southwest has not lost since dropping their district-opening game at South San. The loss helped the Dragons regroup and fashion their current six-game winning streak.
“That was a tough loss, but we came back with a lot of energy and just kept our focus,” Terrazas said. “It reminded us that you can’t take anyone lightly. We have to play our game, no matter who we’re playing.”
Southwest will face another tough test Friday, when it plays second-place Corpus Christi Carroll (17-4, 4-2) at Cabaniss Field in Corpus Christi.
“It’s going to be really tough – really hard,” Hernandez said. “They’ve got a freshman pitcher that’s really stepped up.”
As the Dragons showed Tuesday, they have a solution for that.