Southwest one win from first Region IV final
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In its fifth try, Southwest discovered the right mix of ingredients to defeat perennial Rio Grande Valley power San Benito Friday at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.
The Dragons (32-9) smashed the Greyhounds (27-5) 7-2 in Game 1 of the Region IV semifinal series with help from senior center fielder Liz Phillips. The fourth-year starter – known as a gap hitter – packed the punch with an RBI double for Southwest’s first run and a two-run home run in the seventh that essentially clinched the win.
Although Phillips had been doing her job as a No. 2 hitter in Southwest’s order by drawing walks and moving runners up, her extra-base power had been on vacation since she hit her first home run of the season in the bi-district series against Brandeis.
“I think I’m finally coming out of the slump. It was definitely good,” Phillips said. “The good thing about hitting int he second spot, Kristal (Salinas) and I were able to get them going. We were able to open it up for the team. It helps to make it easier when we get some momentum going between us.”
If Southwest wins one of two scheduled games Saturday at TAMUK, it will advance to the regional semifinals and play San Marcos (32-9). The Rattlers, who eliminated East Central in the area round, edged Eagle Pass 2-1 Thursday and 4-3 Friday to sweep the other Region IV semifinal series.
The Dragons will play San Benito in Game 2 at 2 p.m. If necessary, Game 3 will take place 30 minutes after that game is completed.
San Benito swept postseason series against Southwest in 2010, in the area round, and 2011, in the regional semifinals. The Greyhounds never led Friday.
Salinas, a junior shortstop, started the game with a base hit and scored on Phillips’ double for a 1-0 lead. San Benito, which reached the state finals in 2013, tied it in the bottom of the first inning on an RBI double from Dorothy Millan.
The Dragons seized control in the second inning, when senior Gabby Flores hit an RBI single and scores on a bases-loaded walk. Southwest took a 4-1 lead into the fourth, adding a run on a sacrifice fly.
San Benito closed within two runs in the bottom of the sixth when Amber Jasso – who pitched the Greyhounds to two wins over Southwest in 2011 – drove a leadoff double and scored on Clarissa Huerta’s single.
The Greyhounds had runners at the corners, but Southwest second baseman Yanira Fernandez fielded a grounder, tagged the San Benito runner as she passed and threw to Caitlin Terrazas at first base for an inning-ending double play.
Southwest unloaded on Greyhounds ace pitcher Crystal Castillo in the seventh inning.
Senior Amanda Sanchez sparked the rally with a leadoff triple to left field. Salinas drove in Sanchez with a grounder to first base that was misplayed for an error.
With the Dragons ahead 5-2, Phillips worked the count to 3-2 and launched a drive over the fence in straightaway left field. Terrazas hit a two-out shot to the warning track in left-center, but it was just short of being a second Southwest home run in the inning.
“My coach (Sandy Hernandez) gave me a bunt sign,” Phillips said, “but I didn’t lay down a bunt. I ended up taking a strike inside. Then she gave me a pitch down the middle, and I took it out.”
It didn’t matter. The damage had been done.
Although the Greyhounds drew two walks in the final half-inning, Southwest senior pitcher Kamerie Vidales escaped the jam without any damage.
It was Vidales’ third-straight postseason victory and the fifth in a row for the Dragons. Southwest has hit at least one home run in seven of its eight playoff games.