Southwest’s PONY champs reach semis for for first time since 2011
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A delay of nearly two hours, fallout from afternoon storms Friday, gave Southwest plenty of time to overthink its good fortune — and endanger its status.
Fortunately for the Dragons, they were aware of the potential pitfalls associated with getting an early lead in a best-of-three series. They had been in Steele’s situation in the previous round.
“You just try to stay focused,” Southwest junior shortstop Kristal Salinas said. “Judson kind of relaxed in the second game, and we came back and had a big inning. We got them. You’ve got to keep that in mind all game long.”
Salinas drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the first inning to add fuel to a rally that gave the Dragons (31-9) a three-run cushion, exactly as the Knights (19-14) had done Thursday. Southwest never lost its lead and completed a sweep of their District 28-5A rival with a 6-3 victory in the Class 5A Region IV quarterfinal series.
“We take losing really hard,” said Southwest senior pitcher Kamerie Vidales, who authored the complete-game win. “It’s almost more than we enjoy winning. As of right now, we’re going to stick together, no matter what – win or lose.”
The Dragons advance to play San Benito (27-4), which downed Los Fresnos 7-0 Friday in a one-game quarterfinal playoff. Interestingly, Southwest met San Benito in a regional-semfinal series in 2011, when Vidales and her classmates were freshmen. It was the only previous time that Southwest qualfied for the semifinals.
The Greyhounds swept postseason series against Southwest in 2010 and 2011. In their last meeting, then-freshman pitcher Amber Jasso limited the Dragons to two runs.
It has been a long, hard climb for Southwest to get back to that point, despite remaining one of the San Antonio area’s best programs.
“This team has been together a long time,” Salinas said. “We won three national championships in the PONY league, but we kept running into obstacles in the playoffs in high school. We weren’t able to get past the second round.
The Dragons scored fewer than 10 runs for just the second time in seven postseason games this year. Vidales kept Steele scoreless over the last five innings.
“Ever since we lost to South San (March 13),” sixth-year Southwest coach Sandy Hernandez said, “we’ve learned that we have to score as many runs as we can. We took control on the mound. That was the difference in this game.”
Southwest scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning, after Salinas notched a leadoff single.
Two runs scored on throwing error on Kayla Arguello’s grounder. Vidales made it 3-0 with a sacrifice fly
“It wasn’t as much stress,” Salinas said. “They started off 3-0 (Thursday). But you can’t let your guard down. You’ve got to keep going.
“There was not one point where we didn’t. They’re a good team. Everybody is in the playoffs.”
The Knights tied it in the second inning.
Steele’s first run scored on a bases-loaded walk to freshman Savanna Bonola. Amanda Thacker brought in the Knights’ last two runs with a single to left-center. Steele left two runners on base.
Vidales also stranded a runner at third in the fourth inning and left the bases loaded in the fifth after Mersadi Garcia wedged a two-out single through the infield.
“Kam stepped up,” Hernandez said. “She did a great job of getting out of that bases-loaded situation. She was just big. I knew I could count on her to come to play.”
Southwest took the lead in the bottom of the second on doubles from Miranda Gonzales and Salinas (2-for-4, RBI).
Vidales led off the third with a single to center field. With one out, Caitlin Terrazas drove a home run over the left-field fence. It was her ninth home run of the season, but just the second of the series for the Dragons, who hit three in the decisive game of their area-round set against Judson.
The Knights manufactured one last potential threat, but an outstanding defensive play helped Vidales escape without giving up a run.
Alexis Walkden led off the sixth with a base hit down the left-field line. Thacker (2-for-3, 2 RBIs) sent a double to the center-field fence. Steele had two runners in scoring position with no outs, and Walkden made a break for the plate.
A relay throw from Southwest senior center fielder Liz Phillips to Salinas to senior catcher Gabby Flores prevented the run. Vidales retired the last four Knights batters in order.
“I know, in yesterday’s game, we didn’t show what we could do until the end,” Vidales said. “I tried to stay focused the whole game. You never know what can happen at the end.”
It would be easy to characterize Southwest-San Benito as power hitters versus slap hitters, but the Dragons coach indicated that would be an oversimplification.
“Elias Martinez is still coaching them and they’ve still got Amber Jasso,” Hernandez said, “but she isn’t pitching this year.
“They’ve still got some good bunters, but they have some good hitters, too. They can do it all. We have to be ready for anything.”
The regional semifinal series will be played entirely at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. The first game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday. If necessary, two games will take place on Saturday. Game 2 is set for 2 p.m. The third game would take place 30 minutes after its completion, if it’s required to determine a winner.
The Greyhounds were tied for 10th in the most recent Texas Girls Coaches association state poll. Southwest was unranked.
Vidales remembers the 2011 series against San Benito, although it isn’t a fond memory.
“It was a hard series,” the senior said. “We kind of fell apart. We came at them with what we had, but we came up short.”
Mental toughness has been Southwest’s calling card this season.