Dragons keep fighting for state berth
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Southwest drew on both its inner and its physical reserves Friday at Mary Ann Villarreal Field No. 1 to force a third game in its Class 5A Region IV final series with San Marcos.
On the heels of a 10-run loss to the Rattlers in the series opener, Southwest coach Sandy Hernandez made a couple of cosmetic changes to her batting order and shared some words of wisdom designed to lighten her team’s psychological load, then sent them off to meet the challenge. Unlike Game 1, the Dragons (34-10) produced in clutch situations and stifled most of San Marcos’ scoring opportunities on their way to a momentum-changing 7-3 victory.
The Rattlers (33-10) lost for the first time this postseason, ending a 10-game winning streak.
“When I met with them out o n the mound I told them,” Hernandez said, ” ‘Players that fight never lose games, they just run out of time. I love you. Just go out there and play, girls. If you do what you love, you’ll always be successful. Have fun.’
“They really responded. No one can beat us when we do that.”
The series concludes at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Mary’s University. The winner advances to the Class 5A state tournament.
Southwest replaced injured senior left fielder Amanda Sanchez with sophomore Megan Hernandez in the No. 9 slot and flip-flopped two of its regulars. Senior Gabby Flores was shifted from catcher to designated player. Sophomore Miranda Gonzales, who normally is the DP, started behind the plate. Classmate Isabel Soto was a late-inning defensive replacement in right field for Faith Aguilar.
Flores, Gonzalez and Hernandez each finished 1-for-3 with an RBI. More importantly, they were key contributors to the Dragons’ three-run rally in the third and two-run rally in the sixth.
Hernandez laid down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt for what proved to be the winning run.
“We had people pull together for those that were out,” the Southwest coach said. “Megan had been contributing off the bench very well. She had been bunting well, so I asked her if she wanted to bunt again, and she said ‘yes.’
“Faith has been doing a great job all season. Isabel came off the bench and made that great catch in right field in the seventh. The bench came through.”
Southwest never trailed in Game 2, but was tied 1-1 for a few moments in the third inning, before Hernandez’s bunt.
The Dragons seemingly were at their best in clutch situations all evening, and none was more important than when San Marcos’ No. 3 hitter Stephanie Marmolejo faced sophomore pitcher Caitlin Terrazas with two runners on base in the sixth inning and the Dragons’ 5-3 lead potentially in jeopardy.
Marmolejo had hit two home runs and drove in six runs in Game 1.
“We allow them the previous at-bat, but we don’t really worry about what they did,” said Terrazas, who held the Rattlers to five hits. “She hit two home runs. Good for her. But I was going to come back and stay under control.
“I stayed confident in my defense. I was not going to give her anything over the plate. I was going to make her work for it.”
Terrazas retired Marmolejo on an inning-ending line out to left. She also stranded Vianey Villalpando (2-for-3) at second base after the San Marcos cleanup hitter led off the seventh with a double.
Between those at-bats, Southwest added two clinching runs in the bottom of the sixth.
The rally began with consecutive singles from senior Kayla Arguello, Kamerie Vidales and Yanira Fernandez. Fernandez (2-for-3, RBI) made it 6-3 on a slow roller to third base.
Terrazas (2-for-3, 2 RBI) re-loaded the bases with a walk. Flores sent a fly ball to center field that Gabby Guerrero was able to run down for a great catch, but Vidales was able to score on the sacrifice.
Vidales (2-for-4) produced the Dragons’ first run when she dropped a two-out single into center field. San Marcos answered with a two-out, RBI double from Marmolejo (1-for-2, RBI) to the left-center field gap.
Southwest center fielder Liz Phillips quickly retrieved the ball and relayed it to shortstop Kristal Salinas. Salinas’ throw to Gonzales at the plate was in time to prevent a go-ahead run for the Rattlers and end the inning.
“I got up at one point and said we should win every inning,” Terrazas said, referring to a pre-game conversation. “If we don’t score, they don’t score. If they score two runs, we score three.”
In hindsight, the Dragons won the game by winning the third inning. Southwest built a 4-1 lead in the third.
A leadoff walk to Arguello (1-for-2) and a bloop single from Fernandez preceded an RBI single to center field from Terrazas. Ahead 2-1, Southwest loaded the bases with an opposite-field single from Flores and scored on Gonzales’ base on balls. That set the stage for Hernandez.
The sophomore pushed the bunt to third base as Fernandez dashed almost halfway down the third-base line. Fernandez scored standing up.
“That was fun,” Terrazas said. “We really needed runs there. I wish we’d gotten more. Megan got the job done for the team.”
San Marcos scored in the fourth when Guerrero came home on a bobble after Ciandra Kinere’s single, but Southwest matched the run in the bottom of the inning. Terrazas did the honors with a two-out single.
The Rattlers closed within 5-3 in the fifth. Marmolejo scored on errant throw off Guerrero’s fly out. Terrazas retired the next two batters to leave a San Marcos runner on third base.
“I tried to stay with what was working,” Terrazas said, “and stay away from what wasn’t.”
It’s safe to say the Dragons succeeded in doing the same.