Rally Cats: Bobcats gearing up for playoff opportunity

Rio Hondo senior shortstop Cross Gonzalez, senior catcher Danny Vasquez and junior second baseman Derek Castellanos stand behind home plate after practice on Monday at Rio Hondo High School. The trio have been key to the Bobcats strong end to the regular season to clinch a District 32-4A playoff berth. Stefan Modrich/Valley Morning Star

RIO HONDO — Thanks to its midseason turnaround, Rio Hondo is playoff-bound.

The Bobcats (14-13-1, 8-6 32-4A) improved on last season’s 10-15 finish, due in part to the contributions of the heart of their infield — second baseman Derek Castellanos, shortstop Cross Gonzalez and catcher Danny Vasquez. It has earned them a trip to Hebbronville for a onegame playoff with Sinton.

The District 31-4A Pirates (26-6) are led by Texas State-bound ace Brett Brown. But the Bobcats can look to Cuero in District 30-4A for evidence that Sinton isn’t invincible. Cuero knocked out the Pirates during the area round of last year’s postseason and made it to the regional semifinal round.

For Rio Hondo to do the same, it will need quality at-bats from its lineup. TheBobcats’ coaching staff tracked its team’s quality at-bats using several criteria, which are most simply defined as any at-bat that results in the batter advancing a runner and/or reaching base themselves. Making contact with two strikes and lengthening at-bats were two particularly important points of emphasis for the coaching staff.

Castellanos, Gonzalez and Vasquez were atop the regular season leaderboard for the Bobcats in that category, respectively. Senior pitcher Christian Garza and third baseman Joey Ortega rounded out the top five.

Gonzalez hit .431 and posted an on-base percentage of .549 to lead the team. He finished second in RBIs, with 12. Castellanos drove in a team-best 13 runs, hitting .333. Castellanos and Vasquez were co-leaders with 29 hits each, and Vasquez finished the season with a .358 batting average and a team-high 13 stolen bases.

Pitcher Daniel Garza led the Bobcats on the mound with a 5-2 record and 2.38 ERA.

Coach Sergio Gonzalez said the turning point for his team’s season came during an 11-3 win over Grulla on April 16. Rio Hondo edged the Gators for the final 32-4A playoff spot and rebounded after dropping the first meeting between the teams 11-1.

“The second half, I think we just came out swinging,” Castellanos said. “Weflipped the switch.” Prior to their district opener, an 8-7 win in eight innings March 15 at home against Raymondville, the Bobcats had lost three straight games. After losing to Grulla, Rio Hondo rattled off four straight wins. The Bobcats topped Port Isabel in extra innings twice this season.

“That’s the main reason why we use the motto, ‘Finish the fight,’ Vasquez said. “We’re always in it, and we never give up at anything we do.” Gonzalez said the Bobcats were fatigued at the end of last season, losing in a play-in round. But the team’s continuity has allowed it to grow through tough losses and gain enough experience to finally allow this year’s seniors to experience postseason play.

“This was the year for us to come out and get redemption for the two or three years that we didn’t make it,” Cross Gonzalez said. “I feel like everyone as a whole, even if they weren’t a part of those teams two or three years ago, they really bought in. We’ve had this for a while now and it was just a matter of time before we finished it, and now we’ve got it.”

Rio Hondo is scheduled to play Sinton at 7:30 p.m.

Thursday at the Jim Hogg County ISD baseball field in Hebbronville.