By ARMANDO GARZA
Special to the NEWS
On a night that featured a little bit of everything, the San Benito Lady ’Hounds are back in the Elite Eight.
In the bottom of the seventh inning of a 2-2 game against San Antonio O’Connor, Jackie Elizondo singled and courtesy runner Sabrina Mendoza reached third on a rocket by Clarissa Huerta that was misplayed. That brought up Mel Ramirez, whose squeeze bunt enabled Mendoza to dart home and slide under the tag and send San Benito to a dramatic 3-2 win at Cabaniss Softball Field on Friday night.
After going toe-to-toe with an Alamo City softball power and prevailing, San Benito (31-2) now advances to the Region-IV final to face Smithson Valley, a 2-1 winner over Harlingen South.
“I was just thinking ‘Execute,’” Ramirez said afterward, hoarded by cameras, reporters and fans. “I was thinking ‘We got this.’ It was an awesome game to be a part of.”
Lady ’Hound coach Elias Martinez, already one of the Valley’s most respected and successful coaches, added another feather to his cap, guiding another Resaca City club to a deep playoff run.
“Our girls showed no quit,” said Martinez, who has now guided his girls to the Valley’s only two Elite Eight appearances. “This is just awesome. Our girls just keep raising that bar. All week we had some controversy, and we weren’t sure how our girls were going to respond. But we played well and played focused. I couldn’t be more proud of these girls.”
“We had to take gambles and some didn’t work out,” Martinez said of the squeeze play to end the game. “Against a team like O’Connor, you have to take chances.”
Martinez alluded to a protest of last week’s result by Eagle Pass, which was decided in San Benito’s favor by a judge on Friday afternoon.
Junior ace Amber Jasso, who reached just once on a walk, was in command on the night by scattering seven hits and fanning six in the circle. She said she had no doubts her teammates would pull them through.
“I’m just excited right now,” Jasso said as she autographed a ball for a young fan. “We were confident and it means a lot (to reach the Elite Eight for the second time). It means a lot to me, especially for our seniors.”
Going against the team that ousted them the first time they reached the state quarterfinals in 2011, San Benito was confident from the start.
After the Lady ’Hounds retired O’Connor in order to start the game, they stranded three against Panther ace and two-time San Antonio Player of the Year Kenedy Urbany. However, the confidence began to ooze.
Although the Panthers’ Lauryn Donnally (3-for-3) took the first pitch she saw to lead off the second inning and blasted it over the left field fence for a 1-0 Panther lead, Martinez said there was zero panic.
“She hit that homerun and our girls could’ve folded,” Martinez said. “But our girls didn’t flinch. Maybe because they’re too young to know any better,” he added with a laugh.
The girls came up with an answer in the fourth inning.
Ramirez scorched a leadoff double to left center to start things off. Then Cynthia Rodriguez followed with a walk and Kim Harper reached on an error by Urbany to load the bases with one out. Later with two away, that set up Dina Treviño.
Treviño, undoubtedly one of the stars of the night, stepped up and lined a pitch to shallow center, allowing Ramirez and Rodriguez to scurry home. Treviño advanced to second on the throw as San Benito took the lead 2-1.
Later in the fifth, Treviño made one of the best catches of the season. With one out, O’Connor’s Jaylen Houlihan hit a lazy pop to shallow center. Treviño, playing left field, sprinted over to center, squeezed the ball and held on before rolling. She immediately sprang up to show the ball much to the crowd’s delight.
However, O’Connor (31-4) rallied as it had the previous three rounds.
Urbany singled followed by a drop-in double from Donnally. Brenda Ramirez singled to center, but San Benito’s Dorothy Millan made a tremendous play and gunned Donnally at the plate to preserve the 2-2 game.
In the seventh, O’Connor threatened again with two on and two out. But San Benito freshman catcher Kim Harper made a superb play on a foul pop to end an O’Connor threat.
That set up the magic.
Mendoza stepped up and singled with one out. When she was replaced with a courtesy runner, she was seen coaching up her teammates through the pressure-packed moment. Then as soon as Mendoza slid under the tag, the jam-packed stands on the San Benito side rose in euphoria and the celebration continued long afterward as the coaches and players all greeted well-wishers.
“We’re the first team Elite Eight (from the Valley),” Martinez said matter-of-factly. “Now we’re the first team to make it twice! This feeling doesn’t get old. It just keeps getting better and better.”