By CLAIRE CRUZ, Special to the Star
The announcer at Harlingen South games declares the Lady Hawks “the new softball power in the RGV” before home games.
They showed why their fan base has that confidence Saturday evening with a 5-2 victory over PSJA North to sweep the series and advance to their second Sweet 16 in four years.
“At this point there’s no bad teams, and the Raiders came to play … one heck of a game,” South coach Elias Martinez said. “(Advancing) is a big accomplishment, and our girls deserve it. They practice hard and play with a lot of heart.”
The first 3 1/2 frames were all about the pitchers and some solid defensive plays. Harlingen South’s Kylie Ruiz had a perfect game going through four innings, and her counterpart, Andrea Salazar, kept the South offense fairly quiet through three.
But Salazar gave up two walks to open the bottom of the fourth and the Lady Hawks capitalized. Freshman designated hitter Iliana Saucedo drove in one run on a sacrifice fly, and aggressive base running put another run on the board on the same play.
Her big sister, third baseman Alexa Saucedo, capped off the inning with a solo home run to right for a 3-0 lead.
“We were kind of in a struggle for a bit, so it was just a great spot for (the hit) to be in,” Alexa Saucedo said. ““I was just thinking about helping the team and getting the team to the next round. It feels amazing. There really is no explanation in words to match this feeling.”
The Lady Raiders responded quickly behind a RBI single from Mary Casillas in the fifth. But South got the run right back after a two-run bomb by Kytana Muniz.
PSJA North made things interesting with a run in the sixth and some lengthy at-bats that led to walks from relief pitcher Iliana Saucedo during the seventh. But the comeback fell short as the elder Saucedo secured a popup for the final out.
“I’m very proud of these girls. Unfortunately things didn’t go our way, but that’s the game,” Lady Raiders coach Stephanie Lugo said. “They never gave up, and I think that’s the best thing about this group. They set the bar very high for next year.”
South will face New Braunfels Canyon in the regional semifinal round.