MCALLEN — Chemistry is an integral part of the relationship between a pitcher and catcher.
For the McAllen High Bulldogs, it’s what’s helped lead them to being crowned kings of one of the toughest districts in Texas and into Round 2 of the postseason.
Seniors Tristan Cavazos and Chris Bernal, McHi’s ace pitcher and star catcher, respectively, have been a steady force that has propelled the Bulldogs (27-4, 13-1) during their first year back at the Class 5A level.
Now, Cavazos and Bernal are set to lead the Bulldogs into their Region IV-5A area round best-of-three playoff series against Corpus Christi Ray beginning with Game 1 at 5:30 tonight at Uni-Trade Stadium in Laredo.
“I love it,” Bernal said about playing in big games. “I thrive in those moments playing against great competition. It just raises the standards. It pushes you.”
During the regular season, the Bulldogs battled their way to win the District 31-5A championship, beating out state-ranked teams such as Sharyland High and Sharyland Pioneer in the process.
It didn’t come easy, however.
The Bulldogs lost their first big district test 5-0 against Pioneer.
Since that loss March 16, the Bulldogs have ripped off 14 consecutive victories, including a revenge win over the Diamondbacks and two against the Rattlers.
“We had to grind through the district. We had some tough games that we had to battle through and that helped us keep our composure through the whole season,” Cavazos said.
McHi’s mainstay on the mound, Cavazos has emerged as one of the top flamethrowers in the area. He’s built an 8-2 record as a starter with 92 strikeouts and a 1.52 ERA in 64.1 innings pitched. He’s also pitched six complete games with three one-hitters.
Cavazos isn’t too bad with a bat in his hands, either. He’s hitting .435 with 37 hits, 33 RBIs, 31 runs scored and two home runs.
“I go into every game knowing I’m going to have to do my job and be successful in order for us to do well. Everyone has to do their job, and with all the work we put into it, it comes easy,” Cavazos said.
“Chris knows me, he knows my pitches and what’s going to help in certain situations. He has a high baseball IQ and it helps.”
Meanwhile, Bernal, the Bulldogs’ backstop and a Texas State signee, has proved to be a tactician behind the plate. Whether it’s throwing runners out on the base path or delivering at the plate with his bat, Bernal has consistently come through for McHi during his four-year varsity career.
“I work on it every day and got to make sure I’m solid back there for the team to be solid too. I’m back there watching everything and I love that part of the game,” Bernal said.
In 30 games this season, Bernal is batting .405 with 30 hits, 19 RBIs, 26 runs scored and one home run. He also boasts a near-perfect fielding percentage at .995.
“He’s somebody that we probably couldn’t play without. He’s been here for four years and he’s one of the best catchers I’ve seen in high school,” McHi head baseball coach Eliseo Pompa said. “I’ve yet to see someone that has the tools that he has as far as the mechanics of catching and throwing.”
After sweeping Mercedes 2-0 in Round 1, the Bulldogs’ next test is against the Corpus Christi Ray Texans.
“It’s going to be a battle. They got a really good pitching staff; I’ve played with two guys in the summer, but we just have to be patient and let the pitches come to us and just do our jobs,” Bernal said. “It’s going to be a good series.”
Games 2 and 3 are scheduled to resume at noon Saturday at Uni-Trade Stadium. Game 3, if necessary, will start 30 minutes after the conclusion of Game 2.