BASEBALL: Southwest’s Salinas proves mettle as all-star with game-winning hit

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If the 30th Valley-Hi Optimist Club All-Star baseball game had taken place during the preseason, rather than after the season had wrapped up, Southwest senior Javier Salinas might not have been chosen to participate.

That would have been unfortunate for the West team, which edged the East 7-6 Tuesday at the Frank Tejeda Complex.

As an encore to an outstanding senior year, Salinas drove in the game’s first run and also the West’s last ru n – which proved to be the game-winner.

“It was an honor,” Salinas said of being selected for the all-star contest. “I pretty much rode the bench the first three years. I finally got a chance this year. I tried to show I deserved it.

“When I finally got to play, I was an all-star. This has been a great experience.”

Salinas was one of 18 area players who played in the game. They represented 10 local schools.

Holy Cross senior Wyatt Trinidad and South San’s Adam Rodriguez drew walks as the first two West batters in the seventh. That brought up Salinas, who hopes to make the University of Texas-San Antonio squad as a walk-on or non-scholarship player.

The Dragons outfielder dropped an opposite-field single to right that brought Trinidad home and increased his team’s lead to 7-1. It didn’t seem that way at the time, but the run turned out to be vital.

“I felt pretty comfortable at the plate tonight,” Salinas said. “I was a little jittery in the first inning, but that went away. I was able to get out ahead of (that pitch) and take it oppo.”

West pitchers Jordan Hackett (Taft), Trinidad and John Eric Cortez (Southwest) had kept the East’s bats mostly silent to that point. That changed suddenly as Cortez entered his second inning.

After Cortez retired the leadoff hitter on a comebacker, Jesse Martinez (Holmes) lined a single and Jordan Pruitt (Cole) drew a walk. Matt Martinez (Antonian) followed with a crucial, two-run double.

With the East trailing 7-3, Seth Henry came to the plate. The Edison standout singled and then stole second as part of a delayed double steal. Martinez scored from third base and the East was within three runs.

“When you’ve got runs in scoring position, you have to move them over,” said Henry, who shared catching duties with Burbank’s Andy Morales. “I did my part, and other people did their parts. That was a good momentum changer.”

Henry scored as Burbank’s Eduardo Salas drew a walk on a wild pitch. West manager Polo Botello (Holy Cross) brought in reliever Ryan Larson (Warren) with the score 7-5.

Larson retired the first batter he faced, but Harlandale’s Michael Agis worked a 3-2 count against him. On the payoff pitch, Agis slammed a double off the left-field fence. It was the last hit on his home field for the four-year starter bound for Broward College.

Agis’ hit brought in Salas from second base.

“I was hoping it would go out. That would have made my day,” said Agis, who pitched three scoreless innings. “You never want to make the last out. I wanted to keep it going . If we had tied it there, who knows what might have happened.”

Edison’s Zach Garcia drew a base on balls from Larson, but the Warren pitcher escaped the inning without further damage. He then retired the last six East batters in order to notch the save.

Agis and West starting pitcher Jordan Hackett (Taft) kept the game 0-0 through three innings. The Harlandale pitcher cruised after pitching out of a bases-loaded situation in the first. He allowed just three hits, while Hackett limited the East to one.
It was the last game Agis will pitch for a while. He’s shutting his right arm down until he reports to Broward College in Florida in August to begin his junior college career.
“It felt great to be here with all these great players,” Agis said. “It was a good feeling to be out here (at the Tejeda Complex) one more time.
“(My pitching) was good and the other pitcher (Hackett) was good, too. I didn’t want to give up that first run.”
The West scored shortly after Agis’ mound stint ended.
In the fourth inning, Trinidad and Cortez drew walks ahead of Salinas’ first RBI single. William Rangel-Alfaro (Stevens) produced another RBI hit to make the score 2-0 in the West’s favor.
The East, managed by Highlands coach Mike Perez, also scored in the inning. Max Heintzelman (Antonian) and Agis, who drilled a rocket-shot past the shortstop, set the table. Garcia hit into a force out, but an errant throw at first brought in Heintzelman.
The West added three runs in the fifth on an RBI single from Andrew Johnson (Warren) and a two-RBI single from Larson. Central Catholic outfielder LaShawn Thomas sparked the rally by reaching base on a bloop single and stealing second base.
“I knew the pitchers,” Thomas said. “It really helped me to know those guys and what they were going to do. It was a great experience.”
The Central Catholic grad will play both football, as a wide receiver, and baseball at Norwich University, a private military school in Vermont.
“It was a great opportunity for me,” Thomas said. “I enjoyed my last baseball game. It got me prepared for next year at college.”
Trinidad, meanwhile, kept the East in check to protect the lead. The Knights ace limited the home team to three hits in his final baseball game.
“It started when I was warming up in the bullpen,” Trinidad said. “I was feeling like everything was working. When I’m able to locate my curve, it’s a good day.”
Although he’s coming off an outstanding career for the Knights, he won’t play college baseball. Trinidad who has a full academic scholarship to major in biology at Texas A&M University.
“I had a good season offensively,” he said. “I worked with the coaches and I ended up hitting .422. I had to work hard to do it, but hard work pays off.”
Trinidad led off the sixth with a base hit and scored on a wild pitch after Rodriguez and Juan Diaz (Highlands) filled the bases with a pair of walks. The West led 6-1 after six innings.
“It felt great to play with these guys,” Trinidad said. “We came together as a team right away. We didn’t have a practice. We all got here about 4:30 p.m. (for the 6:30 game).”
Like Harlandale coach Eric Forestier – the winning pitcher in the first Optimist all-star game – Montemayor played in the game as a high school senior. It had a different name at that time.

Valley-Hi Optimists All-Star Game area participants

East

Central Catholic – LaShawn Thomas; Holy Cross – Sammy Moreno, Wyatt Trinidad; Jefferson – Cesar Garza; McCollum – Patrick Jauregui; South San – Adam Rodriguez; Southwest – John Eric Cortez, Javier Salinas.

West

Burbank – Andy Morales, Eduardo Salas; Edison – Zach Garcia, Seth Henry, John Martinez; Harlandale – Michael Agis, Nikolas Martinez; Highlands – Juan Diaz, Richard Gonzalez, Antero Perez.

SOFTBALL: Difficult loss helps give Wiatrek clarity on college choice

East Central softball all-stater/cheerleader/valedictorian Kirsten Wiatrek
East Central softball all-stater/cheerleader/valedictorian Kirsten Wiatrek

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Coaches ask their teams to learn from a loss.
What Kirsten Wiatrek learned from East Central’s last defeat in arguably the school’s best softball season blindsided her like a safety blitz. In fact, in ways yet to be revealed, it may have changed the course of her life.
When the Hornets lost their area-round game to Smithson Valley, and whose 2013 season continues in the Region IV finals, it wasn’t the margin of the 17-2 defeat that stung Wiatrek. What stunned the Hornets’ captain and all-state center fielder most was her unpredictable reaction to it.
“It was difficult to decide,” Wiatrek said, referring to the choice between playing collegiate softball or devoting that time to academics. “It was strange but, once we lost that playoff game, I had a sense of relief.
“I kept thinking that, if I was going to keep playing softball, I shouldn’t feel this way.”
At the time, the senior was mulling whether to accept a softball scholarship offer from St. Mary’s University. The message East Central’s valedictorian gleaned from the experience was that it was time to end her playing career.
Wiatrek decided instead to attend the University of the Incarnate Word. If she competes for the Cardinals, it won’t be on the diamond but in the classroom and possibly in cheerleading competitions.
She will major in pharmacy at UIW. It’s an academic path she couldn’t follow at St. Mary’s, a factor which complicated the decision.
“Academics, right now, is the game plan,” Wiatrek said. “I’m an early admit in pre-pharmacy. In two years, I’ll be able to enter the School of Pharmacy.
“I was really torn. The scholarship offer St. Mary’s gave me was really generous. It was hard knowing I was going to walk away from softball. But as much as I loved it, I also hated it.”
After 14 years of softball in one form or another, Wiatrek explained that she enjoyed the games much more than the practices. She also understood that college softball would require a much greater time commitment than the sport had at East Central.
“Everyone tells me that softball is like a job in college,” Wiatrek said. “With what I’ll be doing academically in college, softball really isn’t an option. If you’re not going to a (major college), you really have to love softball to play in college. I had my time with it, but I really had to walk away.”
When she was a freshman and sophomore at East Central, Wiatrek thought a legal profession might be her calling. So, when St. Mary’s came through with the offer of a softball scholarship, it reawakened her interest in that field and she entertained the idea of becoming a pre-law major.
Therefore, she was not only hamstrung between two catholic universities, but two completely different academic courses – both extremely challenging and involving.
“I probably would have walked-on at Incarnate Word,” Wiatrek said, referring to playing without a scholarship. “I wasn’t pursuing a softball scholarship until St. Mary’s wanted me. I was considering cheerleading in college.”
While East Central softball coach Bryan Waller supports Wiatrek’s decision, he knows that she was capable of performing well at the college level.
“I think she’d definitely do a great job,” Waller said, “if she had chosen St. Mary’s under Coach (Donna) Fields. I think she would be successful in whatever she chooses to do in life. Kirsten is one girl who, when she sets her mind to it, she gets it done.”
The EC alumna has everything it takes to have a great experience at UIW, according to her former softball coach.
“I see her doing exceptionally well,” Waller said, referring to Wiatrek’s academic potential. “She’s already accepted into pharmacy school there, so she has that lined up. Incarnate Word was where she had to go, because it’s one of the best for her career.”
Wiatrek plans to enter the six-year pharmacy program in her junior year. She plans to attend UIW as both a undergrad and graduate student.
“I was kind of burnt out from practicing three to four hours a day every day,” Wiatrek said of softball. “I sympathize with most high school seniors. It was time to give it up.”
Fortunately for her, there were bigger and better opportunities on the not-too-distant horizon because of an admirable track record in high school.