ROMA — The heat index in Roma approached 109 degrees Saturday, but pitcher Devin Benavides didn’t miss a beat in Laredo United South’s 7-4 win over Los Fresnos.
The visitors swept their best-of-three series to advance to the Class 6A regional semifinal round.
“We knew that the heat was going to play a big part,” Laredo United South coach Dante Madrigal said. “Having depth in our pitching staff was really in our favor today. Credit to (Los Fresnos), they never gave up, they kept battling over there, and that’s a great ballclub over there.”
Laredo United South used three pitchers, including Juan Milera (2/3 of an inning) and Greg Campos, who notched the save.
Benavides did not allow a hit through his first four innings of work, allowing one run on three hits and two walks, striking out seven in 4 1/3 innings.
The District 29-6A champion Panthers (31-8-1, 10-2 29-6A) again jumped out to an early lead, tacking on four runs against Los Fresnos starter Alex Salas during the first inning and taking advantage of the Falcons’ three errors in the ballgame.
“Both teams left it out on the field today,” Los Fresnos coach Rene Morales said. “I wish we would have had a better start, but we didn’t.”
Left fielder Jerry Villarreal laced an RBI single to right to bring home shortstop Bernard Pedraza and open the scoring for Laredo United South. Right fielder Manny Navarro followed by reaching on an error to score Villarreal, and catcher Alex Cerda notched two more RBIs with a double to right center to give the Panthers a 4-0 advantage.
Salas departed after 1 2/3 innings, and reliever Isaac Franco (5 1/3 innings, three runs on three hits, one strikeout and one walk) retired Navarro on a fly ball to left to escape the jam.
Benavides hit Franco to give Los Fresnos its first baserunner with one out in the third inning. But Benavides struck out catcher Jacob Sandoval and picked off pinch-runner Robert Ramones to end the inning.
Laredo United South led by as many as six runs when Campos drove in a run with a single and scored another on a fielder’s choice in the fourth. During the bottom half of the inning, center fielder Germain Castillo gave the Falcons (23-12, 10-5 32-6A) their first hit of the afternoon.
In the fifth, freshman Michael Garate delivered a pinch-hit RBI single and replaced Sebastian Ledesma at second base. Right fielder Johnny Cadengo grounded into a fielder’s choice to score left fielder Lee Trevino.
Los Fresnos pulled within two runs of Laredo United South during the sixth inning. Third baseman Carlos Perez started the rally with a single on a swinging bunt down the first-base line, and left fielder Luis Valencia lost Sandoval’s fly ball in the sun to set the table for left fielder Lee Trevino. Trevino drove in a pair of runs to bring the score to 6-4.
But the Falcons did not come any closer. Campos added a hit in the seventh inning that helped the Panthers tack on an insurance run via a wild pitch and secured a five-out save.
“The first game we didn’t hit the ball well,” Morales said. “Today we hit the ball a couple times and we left some runners on base. They made some more plays than we did today, and that’s why (Laredo United South) is going on to the next round.”
The Panthers await the winner of San Antonio Johnson and Austin Lake Travis.