SOFTBALL: Southwest makes history with San Benito sweep

Dragons earn first Elite Eight berth

Photos taken by KJ Toso. For more photos or to purchase photos, please visit: http://kjtoso.photoshelter.com

Southwest senior catcher Gabby Flores rejoices over the Dragons' series sweep of San Benito.
Southwest senior catcher Gabby Flores rejoices over the Dragons’ series sweep of San Benito.
Kristal Salinas, Faith Aguilar, Amanda Sanchez and Yanira Fernandez (from left to right) share their enthusiasm over a remarkable catch. Salinas backpedaled to the outfield grass to corral the ball, but it popped out of her glove. Sanchez caught the ball in the air for the key out in the sixth inning.
Kristal Salinas, Faith Aguilar, Amanda Sanchez and Yanira Fernandez (from left to right) share their enthusiasm over a remarkable catch. Salinas backpedaled to the outfield grass to corral the ball, but it popped out of her glove. Sanchez caught the ball in the air for the key out in the sixth inning.
Dragons junior pitcher Caitilin Terrazas limited San Benito to one run over the last four innings.
Winning pitcher Caitlin Terrazas limited San Benito to one run over the last four innings.
Teammates congratulate Gabby Flores after her three-run home run in the third inning.
Teammates congratulate Gabby Flores after her three-run home run in the third inning.
Liz Phillips delivers an RBI single to feed the Dragons' seven-run, third-inning rally.
Liz Phillips delivers an RBI single to feed the Dragons’ seven-run, third-inning rally.

PLEASE FOLLOW THIS LINK TO THE SOUTHSIDE REPORTER WEBSITE:

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local/communities/southside/article/Southwest-sets-its-mind-to-winning-5490259.php


The deeper a team goes into the postseason, the more important the mental aspect of the game becomes.

Southwest (33-9) has mastered the process after six years of playoff appearances under coach Sandy Hernandez. The senior-laden Dragons demonstrated as much this weekend by winning a pressure-packed, best-of-three Class 5A regional semifinal series against San Benito (27-6) at Texas A&M-Kingsville.

After winning the series opener 7-2 Friday, the Dragons overcame a 5-1 deficit to post a 9-6 victory Saturday afternoon. The sweep made them the first Southwest team to advance to the Region IV finals and become one of the state’s final eight.

“That’s one thing I’ve worked on since 2009,” Hernandez said of improving her team’s mental toughness. “I’ve tried to study and figure out the mental part.

“It’s not that I did, but I think they finally figured it out.”

Many of the current Dragons played on Southwest Pony League’s three national championship teams during their early teen years.

“This is a different level,” Hernandez said. “They had success in their youth league, so they knew how to do it.. They just had to figure out how to do it in high school.”

Southwest advanced to play San Marcos (32-9) in the regional championship. The Rattlers swept their semifinal series against Eagle Pass with two one-run victories. Hernandez said series details would be determined Monday.

“They have a great pitcher,” Hernandez said. “We’ll have to figure that out.”

San Benito was the perfect semifinal foil for the Dragons for two reasons.

The Greyhounds, who were making their seventh Sweet 16 appearance, reached the destination in 2013 that Southwest is steering toward – the state finals. The other reason it was a compelling matchup was that San Benito eliminated the Dragons twice in previous years, including 2011 when the current seniors were freshmen.

“We wanted revenge,” said Southwest senior center fielder Liz Phillips, who broke out of a slump by hitting a game-clinching home run Friday.

“I’m glad we got it.”

As befitting the Greyhounds’ pedigree, San Benito didn’t make it easy.

Three walks and an RBI double from Dorothy Millan to the left-center field gap made it 2-0 before the Dragons came up to bat.

Southwest cut the deficit in half in its half of the first. Kristal Salinas (3-for-5, RBI) and Phillips (2-for-3, RBI) provided the spark with base hits. Senior third baseman Kayla Arguello loaded the bases on a catcher’s interference call.

Kamerie Vidales’ grounder brought in one Dragons run, but Southwest left two on base in the first and three more in the second.

Three Southwest errors combined with two more walks to help San Benito sculpt a 5-1 lead in the third inning.

Fortunately for the Dragons, the Greyhounds also were in a generous mood.

San Benito committed three errors in the bottom of the third as Southwest responded with a seven-run outburst. The rally included a game-changing, three-run home run from senior catcher Gabby Flores.

“When Gabby hit that home run,” Arguello said, “it gave everyone confidence, not just me.”

Flores’ blast meant that the Dragons had hit home runs in eight of its nine postseason games. Realistically, though, it carried much more significance. It was the assurance that the Dragons could vanquish San Benito – and wouldn’t need another game to accomplish it.

“One of our goals was to try to do it in two (games),” Hernandez said. “We couldn’t go three against that kind of quality team. It was great to see my team succeed..”

The Greyhounds hadn’t committed an error in the first two innings, after having an outbreak in Game 1. However, their second error of the inning gave Southwest its first lead of the afternoon.

Salinas’ go-ahead RBI single was misplayed for a two-base error. With the junior at third base, Phillips delivered an opposite-field single that put the Dragons ahead 7-5.

Arguello followed with a double that hit the base of the center-field fence, below 225-foot sign at Vernie and Blanche Hubert Field.

“Every time I go up to bat,” she said, “I’m really not hitting for myself. I’m trying to get my teammates an RBI so they can score.”

The blast increased Southwest’s lead to three runs and prompted San Benito’s 17th-year coach Elias Martinez to hand the ball to senior Amber Jasso, the winning pitcher in both 2011 games, in relief of starter Crystal Castillo. Jasso hadn’t pitched in about a month.

“I told the girls to be ready for Jasso,” the Southwest coach said. “As a coach, that was the right move. She did the job the first three or four innings against us, but we finally got one (run)..”

Southwest junior Caitlin Terrazas had already relieved Vidales. The two pitchers stemmed the tide of runs.

Terrazas allowed only a one-out home run to San Benito’s Melanie Gonzalez in the fifth. She pitched out of the inning, leaving three Greyhounds on base and squelching their best chance for a comeback victory.

In the sixth, she had help from an amazing catch that prevented a hit.

Backpedaling to the outfield grass on a pop fly, Salinas snared the ball, but it popped out of her glove. Fortunately for the Dragons, left fielder Amanda Sanchez – one of the heroes of Game 1 – backed up the play and caught the ball in the air, as in a football tip drill.

“We made some mistakes, and they took advantage,” Martinez said. “I’m proud of my girls because they kept battling. They left it all on the field.

“We went up against a great ballclub. Southwest made some mistakes, too. It’s two great teams going at it, and they came out on top.”

In its last at-bat, Southwest picked up a valuable insurance run.

“The difference was that we struggled offensively,” Martinez said, comparing this year’s series to the 2011 series. “Southwest’s offense is really tough – and we weren’t equal to it.”

With two outs in the sixth, Flores and Miranda Gonzales lined back-to-back base hits. Gonzales came through on full count to drive in the clinching run.

“We’ve all been together since we were very young,” Arguello said. “I think we’re different than any other team, because no one else ha s been together that long. I think we want it more. We want to get where we need to be.”

The mission Arguello referred to was getting to the state tournament, which may be two wins away.

“I think, now that we’ve proved who we are and what we can be,” Arguello said, “next year, when we’re not here, those girls will be able to do the exact same thing.”

One thing is for sure, they’ve seen the process in action.

Southwest carries a six-game winning streak into its best-of-three regional semifinal series against San Marcos. All three games are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

The first game will take place Thursday at the Northeast ISD softball complex. Game 2 is set for Friday at Mary Ann Villarreal Field No. 1 at Burbank High School. If necessary, the third game will be played at St. Mary’s Unviersity’s new field.

SOFTBALL: Dragons stomp San Benito in series opener

 

Southwest one win from first Region IV final

Photos taken by KJ Toso. For more photos or to purchase photos, please visit: http://kjtoso.photoshelter.com

Southwest senior center fielder Liz Phillips broke out of a hitting slump in Game 1 vs. San Benito with an RBI double and 2-run home run.
Southwest senior center fielder Liz Phillips broke out of a hitting slump in Game 1 vs. San Benito with an RBI double and 2-run home run.

 

Dragons senior catcher Gabby Flores contributed an RBI single in the second inning.
Dragons senior catcher Gabby Flores contributed an RBI single in the second inning.

PLEASE FOLLOW THIS LINK TO THE SOUTHSIDE REPORTER:

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local/communities/southside/article/Southwest-sets-its-mind-to-winning-5490259.php

 

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.

SOFTBALL: Area playoff schedule/results (complete)

NOTE: teams we cover are in boldface

Games of May 11-17

Friday’s game

CLASS 5A

Region IV semifinals

Southwest (32-9) 7, San Benito (27-5) 2 (best-of-3 series, Southwest leads 1-0)

 

Saturday’s games

CLASS 5A

Region IV semifinals

Southwest (33-9) 9, San Benito (27-6) 6 (best-of-3 series, Southwest wins 2-0; advances to play San Marcos in Region IV finals)

 

Games of May 18-24

Thursday’s game

CLASS 5A

Region IV championship

Southwest (33-9) vs. San Marcos (32-9) at Northeast ISD Complex east field, 7:30 p.m.

Friday’s game

CLASS 5A

Region IV championship

Southwest (33-9) vs. San Marcos (32-9) at Villarreal Field No. 1, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday’s game

CLASS 5A

Region IV championship

Southwest (33-9) vs. San Marcos (32-9) at St. Mary’s University, 7:30 p.m.

SOFTBALL: Dragons sweep Steele, make second trip to regional semis

 

Southwest’s PONY champs reach semis for for first time since 2011

Southwest senior Kamerie Vidales was the winning pitcher in both games against Steele.
Southwest senior Kamerie Vidales was the winning pitcher in both games against Steele.
Southwest shortstop Krystal Salinas supplied a go-ahead double in the second inning of Game 2.
Southwest shortstop Kristal Salinas supplied a go-ahead double in the second inning of Game 2.

PLEASE RETURN TO THIS STORY TUESDAY FOR A LINK TO THE SOUTHSIDE REPORTER WEBSITE:

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local/communities/southside/article/Dragons-slay-Knights-5471863.php

 

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.

”It’s amazing.”

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.