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New approach to season hits jackpot for Dragons
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Until a Southwest team advances one game further into the postseason, Team 22 will be the standard by which future softball squads are judged.
The Dragons’ large, vociferous community of supporters likely will see to that.
Team 22, in case you’re wondering, is the name that stuck with this year’s Southwest Class 5A state semifinalists, whose season ended last Friday with a 12-2 loss to eventual runner-up The Woodlands at McCombs Park in Austin. The significance extends beyond the mere fact that it was the school’s 22nd softball team. Just as its achievements surpassed those of its predecessors.
The concept that essentially each team was as unique as each snowflake was borrowed from University of Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, whom Dragons coach Sandy Hernandez heard at a softball clinic. It was intended to help inspire Hernandez’s senior-laden team to greatness.
“Every year is a new team, different than any team in the past,” the sixth-year Southwest coach explained. “I knew this team would be different, with five seniors. At tryouts, I gave each of them an acceptance letter that said ‘Welcome to Team 22.
“I wanted them to know that this year’s team would be different, that I wanted them to be the team they knew how to be and the best team they could be.”
The Team 22 label stuck.
“When the season got going and we were so successful,” Hernandez said, “everybody in the community got into it.”
The message behind the Team 22 concept also stuck a chord with her team.
“Every season that was cut short, it was very frustrating,” Southwest senior Gabby Flores said, “but every year we got knocked down was another reminder that we deserved more. That we needed to get (to state) and we needed to find a way to get there.”
As the season progressed, the District 28-5A champions exuded increased confidence and mental toughness. They also saw their supporting crowd grow in size.
After helping to set a stadium attendance record at St. Mary’s University in the Region IV finale, Dragons fans comprised an estimated two-thirds of the announced crowd of 1,300 Friday on the University of Texas campus. Some held “Team 22” signs.
“It was great,” said Southwest senior catcher Gabby Flores, who collected two hits. “It felt like it wasn’t real, because everyone on the team had dreamed about making it that far. It was kind of like a dream come true.
“Our community support is so great. They’re behind us no matter what. We’re very blessed for all of that.”
Southwest’s first state-tournament softball team fell behind The Woodlands early and couldn’t manufacture runs in bunches as it had throughout the season. Errors also proved an unexpected obstacle. Southwest committed five which fed Highlanders rallies.
The Dragons faced a 7-0 deficit after two innings and never were closer than 8-2 afterward.
“The whole season was a learning experience,” Flores said. “The girls have grown so much. We’ve grown so much as a team. This game, didn’t show how good w e really are. You’re not going to show that in every game. That’s the way things are.
“But I believe in everything my teammates can do.”
Those were the sort of thoughts that ran through Flores’ mind as she was leaving McCombs Field Friday. She reflected on the journey she and her fellow seniors had undertaken, which included four district titles and postseason runs.
“It has really taught me about leadership,” Flores said. “My team is just amazing. The support is great. I believe in them so much and they believe in me so much. It was great to walk out of there, even if we didn’t win.”
Pitcher-first baseman Kamerie Vidales, center fielder Liz Phillips, third baseman Kayla Arguello, Flores and Sanchez were fourth-year varsity players who’ll be lost to graduation. Phillips and Vidales were starters throughout their Dragons careers.
Arguello will play softball next year at Hill College, a two-year school in Hillsboro. Sanchez will continue her career at Our Lady of the Lake. Phillips and Vidales also plan to play softball at the next level, but haven’t chosen their schools yet. Flores will concentrate on academics at the University of Texas-San Antonio and hopes to eventually become a veterinarian.
“This group of girls, it’s been an honor for a coach to work with them,” Hernandez said. “All five of them came and worked hard daily. They saw how to fail and how to succeed. The best compliment I can give them is how much they’ve matured in four years.
“They made it their goal to go to the top of the mountain, and they did it. It’s going to be hard to fill those shoes.”
Southwest will return five starters who’ll form the nucleus of Team 23.
Caitlin Terrazas will return for her third year as a starting pitcher and fellow sophomore Amanda Cerda, who pitched well against San Marcos in the regional final series, should step into Vidales’ pitching role. Miranda Gonzales, the designated hitter most of the season, will inherit Flores’ catching duties, after showing herself to be a capable replacement against San Marcos.
The senior double-play combination of Kristal Salinas at shortstop and Yanira Fernandez at second base will be a team strength. Right fielder Faith Aguilar is likely to be joined by sophomores Megan Hernandez in left field, who gained experience in the semifinals, and Isabel Soto in center.
When the team reconvenes next spring, it will need to identify the new first baseman and designated hitter.
The pieces seem to be in place for the Dragons to pursue a share of their sixth-consecutive district title, either outright as in 2014 or shared, although the realigned 28-6A promises to be strong from top to bottom. The challenge will be for a handful of players to shine in larger roles as they aim to minimize the loss of on-field production from Southwest’s most-accomplished senior class to date.
“I think Team 22 is going to be one of the best teams ever to come out of Southwest,” Hernandez said. “Next year’s team will have a different style of play. They won’t all be power hitters coming back. We’re going to have to get players on base and move them up.
“They’re going to have to fill in. They’re never going to replace those five seniors.”
Team 23 already may have the fuel for a successful 2015 season. Hernandez suggested that the loss to the The Woodlands might do for next year’s team what a 2011 loss to San Benito did for the graduating seniors, in terms of motivation and goal-setting.
“I think that group learned a lot from that loss,” Hernandez said. “Hopefully, this group will learn a lot from losing (the game Friday) and have the itch to return. Hopefully, this gets them going.”
Small-school team wins 31st Valley-Hi Optimists game
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It only took Jongregory Gonzales one at-bat at the 31st Valley-Hi Optimist Club high school baseball all-star game to demonstrate why he was a key member of Brackenridge’s team the last three years.
Gonzales walked with one out in the third inning and scored the go-ahead run for the victorious Sub-5A team on an error with one out in the third. The Brack senior and his teammates defeated the Class 5A/Private School team 6-4 last Saturday at the Frank Tejeda Complex.
“It’s a great opportunity to showcase your talent,” said Gonzales, who hopes to make the University of Texas-San Antonio team as a non-scholarship player. “To show scouts and people you can play baseball.
“Every pitcher did well. The pitching surprised me. I didn’t think they’d be that good.”
The game, after all, is intended as a showcase for the area’s best senior players – as well as an opportunity to help the Optimists to generate scholarships for worthy students.
Nine area players, representing eight schools, competed in the game. Players were divided along classification lines, creating a David-and-Goliath situation. In previous years, it was an East vs.West game.
“I was kind of intimidated (by 5A) when I was watching in-and-out ,” Lanier’s Hector DeHoyos said, referring to pre-game warm-ups, “but when we scored in the first inning, I knew we were good.”
Gonzales primarily was a courtesy runner as a freshman. Throughout his career, his speed has presented problems for opponents. It was 5A’s turn.
With the score 1-1, Gonzales drew a base on balls and stole second. Sub-5A’s Bubba Miculka, Seguin’s ace pitcher who had dueled Antonian left-hander Troy Garcia on even terms, hit a misplayed grounder that sparked a three-run rally by sending the Eagles runner home.
“When I got those four balls,” said Gonzales, who singled later, “I just wanted to make them make a throw.”
Jacob Arevalo of Pleasanton was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and Michael DeLeon of Brennan hit a sacrifice fly for a 4-1 lead. DeHoyos kept the 5A team scoreless over the fourth and fifth innings.
Fittingly, the relief stint ended when DeHoyos retired his namesake – 5A outfielder Hector DeHoyos of Holmes – for the final out in the top half of the fifth.
It, therefore, seemed eerily appropriate when the other DeHoyos made a diving catch in left field on a sinking fly ball from Randolph’s Colin Toth that ended the fifth with a Sub-5A runner on third base.
“It felt good to be out there with these great players,” the pitching DeHoyos said. “I felt like I pitched a good game. My curve ball and change-up were working. As long as I could get ground balls, my team was there to help.
“I was throwing bullpens last week, just to get ready.”
The teams traded runs in the first two innings.
Donaldo Perez – who shares his name with his father, Somerset’s coach – broke the ice after lining a base hit that got by the 5A outfielder for a two-base error in the first inning. Perez then scored the unearned run on a passed ball.
By the way, the elder Donaldo Perez was an assistant to Sub-5A coach Romeo Barrera of Burbank.
Garcia reached base on an error in the second inning and scored after reaching third on a passed ball. Brandon Colorado (MacArthur) supplied the tying RBI single for 5A.
Central Catholic right-hander Josh Godfrey, who singled for 5A in the fourth, gave his team a chance to win by allowing just one sub-5A run between the fourth and sixth.
“It was very exciting to get that one hit,” Godfrey said. “Then I could go pitch with a lot of momentum going into the next inning.”
Godfrey said he didn’t realize he’d signed on for such strenuous duty, but was a willing volunteer when 5A coach Xavier Garcia of Brandeis asked him if he felt like pitching..
“I didn’t really expect it,” said Godfrey, who may try to earn a spot on the Blinn Junior College team, “but the coach asked me if I could. I said I’d love to do it. He said, ‘Go in now.’
“I felt pretty good. It was pretty exciting, seeing guys from all around the city. It was a really phenomenal experience.”
O’Connor’s Billy Craft made it 4-2 in the sixth with a double to right-center, drving in Enrique Ruiz (Brandeis) and enabling the 5A group to set up a rousing finish. It was the only run Memorial pitcher Ivan DeAnda surrendered, while striking out five and giving up four hits over three innings.
Sub-5A had added a little bit of cushion in the sixth when Brandon Kerr (Somerset) scored after drawing a walk. Gonzales and Somerset teammate Kevin Vasquez moved Kerr along with base hits, allowing the utility player to take home on a wild pitch.
DeAnda helped his own cause by slamming an opposite-field double in the bottom of the eighth. DeHoyos followed with a sacrifice fly that brought in Victor Gonzalez (Natalia) for a 6-2 advantage.
The Lanier standout, who intends to try to walk on at Sul Ross State University, understood his role with one out, runners on second and third and his team looking for an insurance run.
“It felt good,” he said. “With runners in scoring position, I was always taught to hit it to the right side and try to get the run in.”
In the ninth, facing a 6-2 deficit, 5A’s Adrian Lopez (Jay) and Jameal Wolford (Wagner) reached base on errors ahead of an RBI single from Trevor Antrim (Lee). A walk to Taft’s Michael Hernandez loaded the bases with one out.
Kennedy’s Isiaha Garcia took a throw at first base as a run scored on a ground out, pulling 5A within 6-4. Garcia checked for Antrim, wheeled and fired home to complete a game-ending double play.
“I saw (the grounder) go to second base,” Garcia said. “They had bases loaded, so I knew they’d try for two more. As soon as I caught it, I looked and I could see the coach was sending the runner, sure enough. As soon as I threw it, I knew I had him.”
Garcia, a standout tight end during football season, was glad to be selected from tryouts for the game.
“I had fun,” the prospective St. Philip’s College student said. “It was a good group of guys. It was nice to see old friends and make new friends. There were a lot of friendly people here.”
Proceeds from the game went toward the Optimist Club scholarship fund.
Valley-Hi Optimists All-Star Game
Central Catholic – Josh Godfrey; East Central – Russell Brown.
Brackenridge – Jongregory Gonzales; Burbank – Jonathan Alanis, Tristan Settles; Highlands – Steven Martinez; Kennedy – Isiaha Garcia; Lanier – Hector DeHoyos; Memorial – Ivan DeAnda.
Highlanders ride 5-run first to run-rule win
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The Woodlands scored five runs in the first inning and kept rolling on the way to a 12-2 victory in Southwest’s first state tournament game.
The Dragons couldn’t prevent the Highlanders (39-3), ranked No. 1 in one state poll, from scoring until the fifth inning Friday at McCombs Field in Austin. Southwest (34-12), known for its potent offense, wasn’t able to score until the fourth and fifth innings in the Class 5A semifinal.
Although the Dragons scored a run in each of those innings, they couldn’t get the key hits they needed to produce a big rally. They left two runners stranded on base in both the fourth and fifth.
Defensively, they struggled to overcome five Southwest errors and several well-placed hits by The Woodlands. Five of the Highlanders’ runs were unearned.
The Woodlands finished second at state. Rival Deer Park (39-6) defeated the Highlanders 8-2 in an all-Houston-area final Saturday.
Shortstop Aubrey Leach led off the bottom of the first inning with a single for The Woodlands. Following a bunt single by Sidney Salmans, Kaitlyn Stavinoha drove an RBI single up the middle. The Highlanders made it 2-0 on a fielder’s choice. Emily Langkamp produced another run with a single to right field.
Ahead 3-0, Brittany Mann and Amy Cimera followed with run-scoring base hits as The Woodlands batted around in the first inning.
The Dragons’ five-run deficit grew in the second inning.
Southwest picked up its first hit – a double from junior Yanira Fernandez that hit the right-field fence on one hop – but had difficulty adjusting to Woodlands left-handed starting pitcher Abby Langkamp. Fernandez was left on second base.
“I don’t know whether it had to do with being on that big of a stage or not,” Hernandez said, “but I’m giving credit to their pitching. They both had a different style. Once we started figuring out the left-hander, I thought Coach (Richard) Jorgensen made a perfect move to bring in the second pitcher. That second pitcher (Caitlin Bartsch) had the best change-up I’ve seen in a very long time.
“We were not really ready for that. It may have played a role, being on that big stage. I guess we took a step in the right direction. I’m really looking forward to next season.”
Salmans started another Highlanders’ rally with her second bunt hit. An opposite-field single from cleanup hitter Shelby Dublin drove in one run. The Highlanders’ pitcher added another with a sacrifice fly.
Faced with a 7-0 deficit after two innings, the Dragons began putting better at-bats together.
With The Woodlands’ outfield playing shallow, senior Amanda Sanchez made its center fielder chase down her double. On a ground out by Kristal Salinas, Sanchez aggressively motored home from second base to score Southwest’s first run.
Senior center fielder Liz Phillips beat out a dribbler down the third-base line for an infield single and Kayla Arguello walked on four pitches, but the Dragons couldn’t narrow the deficit any further and the Highlanders matched the run in their half of the third on an infield single from Salmans.
In the fourth, the Dragons found success by hitting to the opposite field. Sophomore Caitlin Terrazas, who had relieved Kamerie Vidales in the pitcher’s circle, and senior Gabby Flores (2-for-3, RBI) slammed back-to-back doubles to right field. Courtesy runner Megan Hernandez scored on Flores’ hit to make it 8-2.
Flores’ shot found the wall.
“It was just like any other pitcher,” she said. “It was a little nerve-wracking, because I knew my teammate had done her job. I just needed to follow through, and I did.”
A Southwest error allowed a run in The Woodlands’ half of the fourth and a sacrifice fly from Leach increased the Highlanders’ lead to eight runs.
The Dragons had another opportunity for a big inning in the fifth. Phillips and Arguello began the inning with a pair of walks on four pitches apiece. Jorgensen brought in Bartsch to relieve Langkamp (26-0). The senior retired three batters in a row to prevent the Dragons from scoring.
Bartsch gave up one hit and struck out three in two innings. Flores had the Dragons’ hit, on a slow roller down the first-base line in the sixth, an inning after she threw out a runner at second base.
“It was the kind of hard, because there was a big difference,” Flores said, referring to the contrast between the two Highlanders pitchers. “But, in that little time, you have to find a way to make something happen.
“The second hit wasn’t anything like the first, but whatever works and gets you on (base), that’s what you want to do.”
Terrazas retired the Highlanders in order in the fifth. She allowed two earned runs in four innings of work.
The Woodlands ended the game in the sixth with a two-run, pinch-hit double from senior Amy Harvey. The Highlanders finished with 13 hits. Southwest had six.
“As far as San Antonio and even at the San Marcos tournament,” Hernandez said, “there was never a team that had that style of play – that had perfected small ball to the extent that The Woodlands did. They were the first team in 45 games.
“I even had the track team come out and slap at the ball (in practices during the week). We were taking an extra second here or an extra second there. They took advantage of those bobbles. All credit goes to them.”