Brack thunders into playoffs, leaves Highlands stranded
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Pitching and defense are the foundation on which success is built but, in District 28-4A, it was the Year of the Bat.
Hitting reigned again Thursday night as the final three playoff seeds were settled at the Mary Ann Villarreal Complex. The three winning teams scored a combined 41 runs on a pressure-packed evening in which something was at stake on each diamond.
On Field No. 3, Lanier (6-17, 2-10) locked in sixth place by defeating seventh-place Burbank (3-20-1, 0-12) 17-5. On Field No. 1, Brackenridge (17-9-1, 9-3) caught fire mid-game to down Highlands (8-13-1, 5-7) 10-0 to ultimately secure second place in the district.
“Our main concern was hits and (base)running,” Eagles senior Allie Castillo said. “It was just about getting hits. That was what was going to win this game.”
Both games ended early because of the 10-run rule, allowing the spotlight to settle on the late show at diamond No. 2. That game, too, ended with a double-digit margin of victory – which masked the fact that the score was tied 2-2 through six innings.
“It’s been building up all year long,” Jefferson coach Jennifer Gomez said, referring to the winning rally, “and even the past four years. These seniors wanted it. They wanted to do that to our rival, Edison. We’ve been losing to them for four years.”
In the top of the seventh, Jefferson’s smoldering offense burst into flame. The Mustangs (10-11, 6-6) burned Edison (10-15, 8-4) for 10 hits and 12 runs in their half-inning and surrendered only one inconsequential run to Edison’s potent bats while recording the final three outs in a game steeped in ramifications to four teams.
Although the Golden Bears advanced to the playoffs despite the 14-3 loss to Jefferson, their destiny was intertwined with what had taken place on the adjacent field. Brack’s win dropped Edison to third place and Highlands’ loss opened the door for a second-consecutive playoff appearance for senior-laden Jefferson.
The Mustangs proved they were a team of destiny in seizing fourth place with their backs to the wall.
“I’m very proud,” said Jefferson senior Melanie Ybarra, who drove in the go-ahead run with a triple. “Everyone doubts us. We came back and proved them wrong.”
Edison, unaccustomed to anything but crunch-time success in the final days of recent district seasons, had to count on the playoffs for salvation.
“Jefferson came out ready to play,” Golden Bears coach Aimee Silva said. “We got a little too comfortable. When it was 2-2, we thought we’d get it in the last inning.
“Now we’re in the playoffs, and it’s always about what happens in the playoffs. We have to play to win in that first round game, or we are done.”
Brackenridge 10, Highlands 0
Like Jefferson, the Eagles scored in bunches.
Brackenridge led 1-0 after three innings, scoring on Jackie Rodriguez’s fielder’s choice in the second inning. Highlands put up a brave bid to garner its first playoff appearance in about a decade in the early innings, but wasn’t able to pick up RBIs in order to keep pace with Brackenridge.
Junior pitcher Alexis Berlanga limited the Owls, another team with high-scoring capability, to six hits in pitching a shut out.
“We told ourselves we needed this win,” Castillo said, while watching the Edison-Jefferson game, “for seeding for the playoffs. Now it all depends on what Edison does right here.”
The Eagles separated themselves with a four-run rally in the fourth, sparked by Lexus Lozano’s double.
“To me, it was the next inning,” Brackenridge coach Robyn Murken said. “We had two down, and we started hitting right around then. We got a bunch, maybe three or four, hits in a row.”
They added four more runs in the fifth, aided by senior Ana DeLeon’s two-RBI single.
The pitcher’s sister, freshman Alyssa Berlanga, contributed a two-run double and a sacrifice fly. Castillo was 2-for-3 at the plate as Brackenridge produced 12 hits.
“They’ve been hitting the last four or five games,” Murken said. “We’ve been getting at least 10 hits every game.”
The Eagles got off to a rough start in district play, dropping two of their first three games to Edison and Brennan. Through most of the 28-4A season, Brackenridge was alone in third place.
“We just knew we had to focus,” DeLeon said. “Maybe we couldn’t win district, but we could take second for the playoffs. We just had to keep on fighting and fighting and fighting.”
Brackenridge began its push for second place immediately. The Eagles won eight of their last nine district games.
“I told them they put themselves in this position,” Murken said. “We could have won it all, but we just had to persevere and play through.
We’re still peaking. We’re not on a down slope. We can still get better.”
Brackenridge will play a best-of-three playoff series against Boerne Champion (14-11), which begins 5 p.m. Thursday at Villarreal Field No. 1. The series shifts to Boerne Friday for games at 5 p.m. and, if necessary, 7 p.m.
“I think we’re really prepared,” DeLeon said, referring to the playoffs. “I do believe we could pass the first round. We have every single skill anybody would need to have to go far in the playoffs.”
Jefferson 14, Edison 3
The first four Jefferson batters reached base in the decisive seventh inning, serving as kindling for the rally.
Mustangs No. 9 hitter Amanda Garza, who had tripled and scored in the fifth, drove a single to right-center field to get it started. Amber Maldonado also singled, ahead of Ybarra’s triple down the right-field line.
“I was only trying to make contact and contribute to the team,” Ybarra said. “It felt amazing when I hit it. I got to first, and once I saw it get through, I smoked it.”
A walk and an error preceded winning pitcher Mary Loera’s RBI double. It was one of six Jefferson doubles in the inning, culminating with a run-scoring bash from Becky Rodriguez for the 14th run.
“They took a toll on us, mentally,” Silva said. “When you have two outs and give up 12 runs, your minds really aren’t in the game.”
Rodriguez also drove in the Mustangs’ first run, in the first inning. Edison matched it in the bottom of the inning on catcher Mari Quinones’ run-scoring double to left-center.
The score was tied 1-1 until the fifth, when Garza scored on an error.
“Amanda was on the varsity last year, but this is her first year starting,” Gomez said. “She played a role last year. She was more of a utility player. Her hitting kept her in the lineup this year, and tonight she showed it again. She did a great job.”
Golden Bears senior pitcher Celeste Vela drove in her team’s last two runs. She supplied a two-out, run-producing single up the middle in the fifth and an RBI double down the right-field line in the seventh.
“(Vela) pitched really well against us,” Gomez said. “She’s a great little pitcher. She kept us off-balance, but my girls kept battling and the hits finally came around for us.”
Edison had shared first place in the district with Brennan last season.
“It was just one of those things,” Gomez said. “We wanted to score first. We wanted to be the team that was in control and put pressure on them. We did it to them, this time.”
Jefferson returned the majority of its team from last year’s playoff team, which won a fourth-place tiebreaker to advance. The Mustangs roster featured 10 seniors, eight of whom started last Thursday.
“We came alive,” Ybarra said. “We wanted it. We were tired of people saying we weren’t good enough. We weren’t going to let them beat us again.”
Ybarra also was a regular on Jefferson’s bi-district volleyball team.
“It’s a great feeling getting to the playoffs in any sport,” she said. “Softball has been so fun playing with all these girls, that makes it even sweeter.”
In the bi-district round, Jefferson will face District 27-4A champion Hays (20-3) in a one-game playoff, 6 p.m. Friday at Villarrreal Field No. 2.
“I told them all season that we hadn’t peaked yet,” Gomez said. “Now, we can peak in the playoffs.”
The Golden Bears seemingly performed an amazing transformation during the district season. They were 2-9 during the non-district portion of their schedule, then won their first three district games before falling to eventual champion Brennan 4-2.
“We play a lot of tough teams in the non-district season,” Silva said, “where a lot of teams play games they’re going to win. That’s for us to get prepared for the playoffs.”
Edison will play Lockhart (15-6) in a three-game series at the Northeast ISD Complex. Games are scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday, with a 3 p.m. game Saturday, if necessary.
The Golden Bears performed well in a tune-up game Monday, falling 6-4 to a solid TAPPS team, Incarnate Word.