Special to the NEWS
RIO HONDO – This year’s Rio Hondo Lady Bobcat softball club truly lives by the “Next Girl Up” motto.
And they’re on the verge of the Class 3A playoffs because of it.
Mostly a young group, the Lady Cats’ seniors have brought along the younger players and the result so far has been a 14-14 overall record (6-3 in district).
In the final week of the regular season, Rio Hondo’s shot at a District 32-3A title is slim after a heartbreaking 6-5, nine-inning loss to La Feria. But the good news is the Lady Cats have a stranglehold on second place if they can win two of their last three ballgames.
And coach Brett Esparza has been pleased with how things have transpired so far.
“Our big key to success this year has been depth. We suit out 14 players every Tuesday and Friday and all them could come into the game at any point and make big contributions,” Esparza said. “The addition of such a strong freshman class has also been vital to our new look and new dynamics as a team. Our freshmen have contributed in a major way.”
The four seniors who have led the way for Rio Hondo this season are Ashley Cañas (.500 batting average, 24 base hits), Iraida Garcia (.456, 26 hits), Brittany Beltran (.438, 28 hits) and Keyanna Betancourt (.308).
Esparza noted that the Lady Cats already had a strong nucleus of players returning. The big question was going to be new additions.
“That question’s been answered in a big way as all six freshmen make big contributions,” Esparza said. “Our four seniors have embraced the youth and that chemistry has been a large reason for our success. The seniors trust the younger players to come through on a daily basis.”
One underclassman who’s earned the respect of everyone has been freshman pitcher Samantha Arredondo. The Lady Bobcat workhorse has logged over 80 innings in the circle and averages about one strikeout per inning (78 total). She’s allowed only 33 walks.
The rest of the club includes freshmen Vero Ruiz (.440, team-high 22 RBIs, co-leader on team with 33 hits), Kathy Gaona (.458, 27 hits), Lulu Lopez (.457, 21 hits), Victoria Aguilar (.273), Katherine Nieto (.419, 18 hits), sophomores Amanda Torres (team-high .635 BA, 33 hits, 17 extra-base hits) and Jessica Flores (.434, 20 RBIs) along with juniors Abigail Morales (.543, 19 hits) and Vanessa Hernandez.
“Our biggest area of improvement has been our defense. Our district knows we are gonna hit. The team (.455) and individual batting average, RBI counts (155), slugging (.620) and on base percentage (.536) speak for themselves,” Esparza said. “But last year we lost games we shouldn’t have because of poor defense in crucial moments. This year time and time again we have made the routine play or even big play when it mattered most.”
True, last week against Port Isabel is where it all came together. In a 5-1 win, Rio Hondo played stout defense and withstood 14 Lady Tarpons on base. But when they needed it most, the Lady Cats got not only the big outs, but a huge morale booster in the process.
“The win against PI was huge for our girls because A.) it was PI and B.) there were no more mental blocks or obstacles in our district,” Esparza said. “We had played them (PI) tough twice but came up short and this third game was huge for our confidence going into the playoffs and adding a hope for a possible share of the district crown.”
They’ll meet for a fourth time this week and it could serve as a playoff warm-up game of sorts for Rio Hondo.
“This Friday we have them again and Rio Hondo is always ready for some action against PI; just as PI is always ready for Rio Hondo,” Esparza said. “This year all three of those games have felt like a playoff atmosphere. All the games have been close and decided late in the game. I am very pleased with our team’s focus and execution in these situations. It should pay dividends in the playoffs.”