Timely hits help Cortez, Rio Hondo take series lead

Erika Cortez batting #24 By Stefan Modrich, The Brownsville Herald

THREE RIVERS — Solid pitching and timely hitting can make the difference in the postseason.

That was certainly the case Friday night.

Rio Hondo’s Kelsey Pizarro broke the scoreless tie during the fourth inning and, in the fifth, Domo De Jesus and Alexis Rhyner broke the game open with back-to-back two-run doubles as Rio Hondo sealed a 5-2 Game 1 win over Fredericksburg in their best-of-three Class 4A regional semifinal series Friday night.

The Lady ’Cats are one win away from their second trip to a regional final in program history.

The series will shift to Beeville Jones later today for Game 2. First pitch is set for 3 p.m., and Game 3 will follow 30 minutes afterward if needed.

“We were a little nervous when we took the field,” Rhyner said. “This is the Sweet 16, it is a big stage, and we know we are good and we knew they were good, it was just a matter of settling in. When I got that double I knew I could do it. I had already hit off of her before, so it was a matter of executing.”

Erika Cortez batting #24 By Stefan Modrich, The Brownsville Herald

Rio Hondo’s big inning was highlighted by four hits and four runs. Rhyner finished the night 2-for-3 with a single, double and two RBIs, Pizarro went 1-for-3 and De Jesus went 1-for-2 with two runs, two RBIs and a double.

All of Rio Hondo’s runs were scored with two outs.

“We had opportunities throughout the night, we just couldn’t capitalize,” Rio Hondo coach Brett Esparza said. “We always say when the boat tips over we want to pour it on, and we kept making contact and, for sure enough, the ball started to fall for us. Then we had that big inning, and it proved to be enough tonight.”

Along with the timely hitting came the right arm of senior hurler Erika Cortez, who again stymied her opponent.

Erika Cortez pitching By Stefan Modrich, The Brownsville Herald

“I think through the series we have had before, it was a pick-your-poison (situation) with Erika,” Esparza said of his ace. “She has gotten stronger as the games have gone on, and we have seen that this postseason. Tonight, she started crisp and with different pitches that she threw, and had command of her stuff early.”

Cortez threw a complete game. The hard-throwing righty fanned eight, walked four and gave up four hits and two runs.

#11 Kelsey Pizarro stands on second after a double By Stefan Modrich, The Brownsville Herald

Despite making her Sweet 16 debut, Cortez saw Friday night as just another game she needed to go out and win.

“All I knew was that we had to come in and win Game 1, that was the only thing on my mind,” Cortez said. “I’m the pitcher, so I knew I had to go hard. My fifth, sixth and seventh innings have been strong, so I knew I needed to start strong to throw them off balance.”