By CLAIRE CRUZ, Staff Writer
Harlingen South follows a “next girl up” mentality, never depending on one girl to do it all but understanding everyone has their role.
That mentality was on full display Tuesday night in a highly anticipated matchup between two of the top teams in the Rio Grande Valley. Despite falling behind early, the Lady Hawks fought back and every girl did her part to beat Lyford 11-5.
“My girls have always played with a lot of heart, and so did Lyford. It was a great ballgame,” South coach Elias Martinez said. “We took advantage of situations that came up, and our girls battled the whole way through. We’ve been in some tight ballgames, and that mental toughness is growing. It was a total team effort.”
The Lady Bulldogs jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead after an opening half-inning that featured four hits and two errors by South’s middle infield.
Harlingen South answered with two runs in the bottom half of the frame on two shots over the center fielder’s head. Kytana Muniz got caught in a rundown to end the inning.
South pitcher Janessa Ramos entered the circle in relief of Kylie Ruiz after just one inning. Ramos kept Lyford off the board in the second and third behind good control of her arsenal of pitches.
“We don’t really have a starter, we just pitch. We just say, ‘Hey, let’s go,’ and everybody knows they have a job,” Martinez said. “Nobody gets on each other, they just pump each other up, and whoever’s next is next.”
The Lady Hawks tied things up in the third on a solo home run that hugged the left field line by Iliana Saucedo. But the Lady Bulldogs jumped right back on top with a two-out rally sparked by consecutive doubles from Hailey Pena and Hannah Garza.
In the fifth, the floodgates opened.
Lyford pitcher Mia Wetegrove recorded two quick strikeouts to start the inning. A hard shot from Saucedo forced an error at shortstop to set up the five-run, two-out rally. The Lady Bulldogs’ defense committed two more errors in the frame, and South knocked three hits to take its first lead 8-4.
The same happened in the sixth. Lyford recorded two outs to start, then a Garza error at short woke up the South dugout. The Lady Hawks scored three runs on three hits to put the game away.
Kaitlyn Dones drove in a team-high four runs on a double and a single during the rallies.
“(My mentality was) to just keep it going. It feels amazing. We just need to keep this energy up and come out strong every day,” Dones said.
The Lady Bulldogs got back-to-back hits from Alyssa Garcia and Wetegrove to cut the lead by one in the top of the seventh off Saucedo, who took over in the circle to start the fifth. Saucedo kept her composure and sat down the next three batters to end the game.
The win was just what South needed to get momentum heading into the start of district play Friday. And though things didn’t go Lyford’s way, coach Joey Rios and his squad think this first loss of the season will be good for them, too.
“Not to blame anybody, but the umpiring on the bases definitely hurt us. South hit the ball well, they did their part, so credit to them, but I think the calls were momentum changers,” Rios said in regards to several calls he disputed throughout the contest. “We knew what we were doing, beefing up our schedule coming into the season. Our method is sink or swim, and we want these kinds of ballgames.
“The girls said it best, this is a stepping stone. It wasn’t a loss, it was a learning experience, and now our work ethic has to be there.”