By ARMANDO GARZA
Special to the NEWS
LAREDO — This one was well worth the wait.
Fifteen hours after walking off the field without playing an inning due to bad weather and forgetful umpires, the San Benito Lady ’Hounds gritted out a 4-1 win over Smithson Valley in their Region-IV 5A final at the Student Activity Center on Saturday afternoon and made Valley sports history in the process.
The Lady ’Hounds (34-2) became the first Valley softball team to win a regional final and advanced to the state tournament since softball became a varsity sport in the mid-1990s. They did it with perseverance, confidence and by defeating a defending state champion to become the first regional winners in Valley softball history.
“Our girls just play hard and they play tough, they play with passion. Really I haven’t seen anything that fazes them. They’re so relaxed. I think I get more nervous than they do, and they just tell me, ‘Coach we got this. We got this,’” San Benito coach Elias Martinez said. “They’ve done a tremendous feat for our community, for the Rio Grande Valley, and showed that we can play ball down here. We can play ball with the best of the best. Smithson Valley that we beat today had won three state championships, they won it last year in 4A and we beat them.”
The girls did it by pounding out 11 hits against Lady Rangers ace Regan Mergele and forcing them into mistakes.
A scoreless game was no more in the fourth inning. Mel Ramirez singled up the middle and Cynthia Rodriguez followed with a single to right field. On the throw, Ramirez went to third and Rodriguez reached second safely. Then with one out, Mergele plunked Kim Harper to load the bases. That brought up Amber Jasso, who hit a slow grounder to short and legged out the single, enabling Ramirez to score for the 1-0 lead. Then, a misplayed ground ball helped Rodriguez and Harper come on down for a 3-0 lead in the fourth.
All the while, Jasso cruised, showing her entire repertoire of pitches and keeping a hard-hitting Smithson Valley lineup off balance. She got great defense behind her, namely from short stop Jav’Ana Gonzalez, who was absolutely stoic in making some incredible outs.
In the sixth, Smithson Valley scratched a run across to close the gap to 3-1; however, San Benito got an insurance run when Dorothy Millan, who’d reached on an error, came home on Jackie Elizondo’s RBI double blast to left field to make it 4-1.
That was all that the Lady ’Hounds needed.
In the seventh with everyone on edge and certainly sprouting goosebumps, the girls got the three outs to send them to Austin.
Jasso got a one-pitch out to start the seventh on a popup then another for the second out. The last out came when Jasso struck out pinch hitter Sam Godfrey to send the fans into a frenzy and make Valley history to boot.
“Smithson Valley is tough, they’re a proud program. We had a lead on them, but we view it that in any inning anything can happen,” Martinez said. “They haven’t won state championships for nothing, so they’ve got a lot of pride. It went down to the last at-bat and we fought them till the end.”
With the celebration on at the SAC, a classy move came when Smithson Valley assistant Wayne Daigle came over and saluted the San Benito girls and offered them encouragement before their trip to state.
“He is a classy guy. He came over to our girls and gave them some words of encouragement. He’s a class act,” Martinez said of Daigle.
Several fans welcomed the girls back home when they arrived at San Benito High School later Saturday evening. A pep rally will be held on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Bobby Morrow Stadium to give everyone a chance to salute the Valley’s latest sports heroes.
“It builds the program and makes the girls feel good. There are pros and cons to everything, but the girls deserve it,” Martinez said.
The state tournament features the state’s final four Class 5A teams, all region winners, and is played at Red and Charline McCombs Field on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin. San Benito will take on Lewisville (29-13) on Friday evening at 6 p.m. in a state semifinal game.