Dragons edge San Marcos in 8th inning
Photos taken by KJ Toso. For more photos or to purchase photos, please visit: http://kjtoso.photoshelter.com
PLEASE FOLLOW THIS LINK TO THE SOUTHSIDE REPORTER WEBSITE:
Southwest began the third game of the Region IV finals as though they were going to win it in a sprint. When it turned into a marathon, the Dragons had the finishing kick they needed to qualify for state.
The Dragons (34-11) lost an early lead, but recovered to defeat San Marcos (33-11) 8-7 in eight innings before an estimated crowd of 1,600 Saturday at St. Mary’s University’s Rattler Softball Stadium. They won the last two games of the best-of-three series after losing the opener by 10 runs to San Marcos.
Southwest claimed its second-straight win over the Rattlers, who had won their first seven postseason games.
“They were the first team we played that was like us,” Southwest senior pitcher-first baseman Kamerie Vidales said, the winning pitcher in Game 3. “They really wanted to win. They wanted it just as much as we did. Even though it was going to be difficult, we were going to do everything we could to come up with a win.”
Southwest will play The Woodlands (38-3) at 6 p.m. Friday in the Class 5A semifinals at Red & Charline McCombs Field on the University of Texas campus in Austin. Deer Park (37-6) faces Lubbock Coronado (36-4) in the other semifinal. The finals are scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday.
The Dragons squared the series with San Marcos Friday with a commanding 7-3 win that forced the decisive game. Unlike that game, Southwest trailed for much of Saturday’s contest.
“I’m not going to lie,” sixth-year Southwest coach Sandy Hernandez said. “We have come from behind so many times, I started to wonder if we’d run out of chances. I started thinking that, maybe, San Marcos deserves this more than we do.
“But (the girls) never doubted it. Really, the seniors stepped up and played their butts off.”
Senior Liz Phillips (3-for-5, 3 RBIs) produced the game-winning hit with two outs in the eighth, sending a single to the right-center field gap on an 0-2 count. Phillips drove in sophomore left fielder Megan Hernandez, who had walked and taken second on Kristal Salinas’ ground out.
“It’s my senior year,” Phillips explained. “Like I told my team before the game, I was going to leave it all on my field. If my season was going to end today, I was going to leave it all on the field.
“I knew that, if I didn’t do it then, there might never be a chance to do it again. I wanted to try to help my team and get it done for them.”
The fourth-year starter was the linchpin in the Dragons’ comeback.
“In 2011, Katrisha Arocha was my pitcher, and she was amazing,” Sandy Hernandez said. “I felt like, if we got two runs, we could beat anybody.
“I always knew this group of seniors could do it. Kam, Gabby (Flores), Liz, Kayla (Arguello) and Amanda (Sanchez) have played together so long and wanted it so much.
“I didn’t know if it would take six years or nine years, but I knew, eventually, Southwest would get to state.”
Phillips, who had thrown out a runner at second base in the fourth after a running catch, gunned down a potential winning run at the plate in the seventh. San Marcos’ Ciandra Kinere, who relieved Rattlers starting pitcher Victoria Vasquez, smacked a leadoff single. Kinere (3-for-5, RBI) rounded third on Maddie Bumgardner’s single up the middle.
Phillips grabbed the ball on the hop and fired home. She said she didn’t look for a cutoff person.
“I thought it might be one step to the side (of the plate),” she said, “but I was going to make it. I knew it was going to be close. It felt good leaving my hand.”
Sophomore catcher Miranda Gonzales had the plate blocked and applied the tag for the crucial third out in the seventh, sending the game to extra innings.
Offensively, Phillips tied the score 7-7 with a two-run triple in the sixth. She launched the ball to the wall in the right-center field alley, driving in Flores and Megan Hernandez, who contributed singles. It was the senior’s second triple of the series. She batted .500 (6-for-12) over the three games.
“I thought I could get it done,” Phillips said of her hitting since breaking out of a slump in the regional semifinals. “I believed in myself.”
Vidales (15-5) worked out of a bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the eighth, retiring Ciandra Kinere on a fly out to right fielder Faith Aguilar, to end the game and complete her sixth inning without allowing a run.
“I just knew I had to step up and back up my pitcher,” Vidales said, referring to starter Caitlin Terrazas. “We work as a team, and I had to do it for my team. .”
The Rattlers had led 7-5 after three innings.
Southwest had taken the lead on a three-run home run in the first inning from Arguello, but San Marcos answered with two runs in its half of the inning – giving an indication of the battle about to unfold.
Salinas began the game with a double to straightaway center. Phillips followed with an opposite-field single, ahead of Arguello’s long home run to left field. Surprisingly, it was Southwest’s only home run of the series after belting at least one in eight of the previous nine games.
In fact, the first five Dragons batters made solid contact against San Marcos starter Victoria Vasquez.
The Rattlers scored on RBI singles from Stephanie Marmolejo (3-for-5, RBI) and Kinere but, in both cases, Southwest threw out runners to limit the damage. Vidales cut a throw from the outfield and redirected the ball to third base for a put out. Hernandez threw out Kinere at second base as she tried to stretch her hit.
In all, the Dragons eliminated four runners on the basepaths – no small factor in a one-run game.
Southwest pushed its lead to 5-2 in the third inning. Phillips was safe on an error and Arguello was struck by pitch, putting two runners in scoring position for Vidales (2-for-4, 2 RBI). The senior clean-up hitter delivered a two-run double, which she crushed to dead center field.
The hit forced San Marcos coach Catherine Stoughton to make a bold gambit. She brought in Kinere to pitch for the first time since Spring Break.
“They’d seen Vic two games in a row, and they were starting to figure her out,” Stoughton said. “I was confident CiCi could come in and do it.”
Southwest junior Yanira Fernandez greeted Kinere with an infield single, but the Dragons couldn’t muster another hit against the Rattlers designated player until the sixth inning.
The Dragons had yet make the pitching change that altered the game for them.
Rattlers cleanup hitter Vianey Villalpando blasted a three-run home run that tied the game with none out in their half of the third. Kinere drove in the go-ahead run with a double that ended Terrazas’ outing.
Joshlynn Gonzales (2-for-3, RBI) added an RBI single as the first batter to face Vidales, but the run was charged to her predecessor. San Marcos led 7-5, but it wouldn’t get another runner as far as third base until the seventh.
“I’m proud of the way they played,” Stoughton said of her team. “CiCi (Kinere) came in and pitched great. They really wanted it.”
The Dragons began to solve Kinere in the sixth inning. Flores sparked the rally with a leadoff single. Hernandez then wedged a base hit between the Rattlers’ third baseman and shortstop. Phillips brought them both home with the triple that enabled Southwest to send Game 3 to extra innings.
San Marcos outhit Southwest 14-10. Half of the Dragons’ hits were compiled in the last three innings, one exibit in building a case for themselves as a team of destiny.
“I told them, ‘God put us together for a reason,” Hernandez said.
Southwest had been eliminated in the area round each of the previous two years after advancing to the Region IV quarterfinals in 2011. This year’s District 28-5A champs – the third 30-plus-win Southwest team in four years – seemed to develop more mental toughness with each passing week, leading to a 10-2 postseason record.
“I’ve seen us grow this entire season, more and more,” Vidales said. “We couldn’t be beaten. We had our ups and downs. There were times when we didn’t all get along, but that just brought us closer together in the end.
“There was no way I could think about going on without my team. I love these girls. I knew we were going to go on to state.”
The Dragons are the school’s first team to advance to state in a sport other than track.
“It’s more than I could ask for,” Phillips said. “I never thought we could do something this amazing.”