By MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
High school sports in the Rio Grande Valley, or anywhere, really, can be an unfortunate business. Some of the more despicable acts include coaches who taunt players and unruly fans who decide that the best way to express themselves is by lashing out, and sometimes even rioting. The line between passion and poor taste, however, is often blurred, especially when two proud programs go head to head with their playoff lives on the line.
Enter the Eagle Pass Lady Eagles and their head softball coach, Oscar Ruiz. After falling to the number seven state-ranked San Benito Lady Greyhounds by a score of 2-0 on Saturday, May 11, the Eagle Pass Independent School District Board of Trustees placated the heavily vexed Lady Eagles contingent, presumably led by Ruiz as he was among the more animated persons who expressed disapproval of the manner in which his team was eliminated, by taking their plight to the courtroom.
Specifically, Eagle Pass ISD school board members unanimously approved the authorization of their legal counsel to file an application for injunction challenging the Lady ’Hounds’ victory. Their beef? Well, that’s where it gets a little sticky.
San Benito and Eagle Pass were originally scheduled to play a best-of-three softball playoff series in Laredo to decide who would advance to the regional semi-finals. But after the Lady ’Hounds were up 2-0 during the sixth inning of Game 1, the contest was suspended due to the threat of lighting in the area. Games 2 and 3 (if needed) were scheduled the next day before Game 1 was to be completed. The only problem is that both teams were informed of the following change in plans: Citing UIL rules stipulating that three games cannot be played in one day as well as a suspended playoff game requiring completion the following day with the winner advancing, officials instructed coaches and players from San Benito and Eagle Pass that the winner of Game 1 would move on to the Sweet 16. All the Lady ’Hounds needed was six more outs, and they got them.
Just like that, San Benito had for the fifth time scored a Sweet 16 appearance by defeating the Lady Eagles, 2-0, and began preparations for taking on the number two state-ranked San Antonio O’Connor Lady Panthers in a one-game playoff. Eagle Pass folks, meanwhile, were livid. And I can understand why.
Consider Lady ’Hounds Head Softball Coach Elias Martinez, for instance. You see, Martinez expressed concern during Eagle Pass’ legal maneuvering; after all, his team was largely unaware of who to prepare for, the Lady Eagles or Lady Panthers. In fact, up until about 3:30 p.m. on Friday, less than five hours away from playing in one of the biggest games of their careers, the Lady ’Hounds had yet to hear of a judge’s decision on the matter.
The ruling eventually came, and it was in San Benito’s favor. The rest is history.
For the reasons that Martinez gave, as far as the matter serving as a distraction, I can see why people from Eagle Pass were upset. They had prepared for a three-game series and were forced to scrap those plans at the last minute. With only an inning and a half of play left on Saturday, there was little they could do to change their fate.
Still, as we’ve noted in previous articles, San Benito earned the victory. The Lady ’Hounds scored two runs and Eagle Pass didn’t. While the series of events that occurred on Saturday affected both squads equally, it was the Lady ’Hounds who proved to be the better team. And as they proved again on Friday night, the Lady ’Hounds also know what to do when there are distractions: win.
To the Eagle Pass coaches, I encourage you to strive toward one simple goal next year: Come back not as the better team but as better sportsmen.
See you in 2014.