La Joya's Alex Guajardo (1) after getting picked off by Eagle Pass at 1st base to end La Joya's 7th inning rally in game 2 in a Region IV-6A quarterfinal game at Veterans Field on Saturday, May 22 2021. (Special To The Monitor/Clara Sandoval)

LAREDO — With their season at stake and down to their final out, the La Joya High Coyotes rallied to keep themselves in the game.

Trailing Eagle Pass by three in a must-win Game 2 of their Region IV-6A quarterfinal series, La Joya third baseman JD Ramos and second baseman Alex Guajardo roped back-to-back singles to load the bases and bring the top of the Coyotes’ batting order back to the plate.

But La Joya High’s would-be tying run parked at first base was picked off and tagged out for the final out of the game, dealing the Coyotes a 5-2 loss to the Eagles and their second consecutive defeat on the basepaths Saturday at Veterans Field in Laredo.

Eagle Pass (21-8) secured a walkoff 1-0 victory against La Joya (21-4) in Game 1 of the third-round playoffs series by stealing home plate.

“I’m proud of my guys. They fought to the end,” La Joya High head coach Mario Flores said. “We came out short, but I’m proud of my seniors and I think they set the tempo and the stage for the underclassmen. Congratulations to Eagle Pass.”

After remaining deadlocked with the Eagles for more than seven innings the night before, the Coyotes fell behind before recording an out to begin Game 2.

Eagle Pass recorded three hits through the first four at-bats of the afternoon highlighted by catcher CJ Jimenez’s two RBI single with the bases loaded and no outs.

The Eagles doubled down on their strong start with a two-out double by center fielder Isaac Stanwick to punctuate a four-run top of the first, prompting Flores to make a bold call by turning to his bullpen for relief to start the second inning.

La Joya’s Hugo Cantu (42) delivers a pitch to Eagle Pass in a Region IV-6A quarterfinal game at Veterans Field on Saturday, May 22, 2021. (Special To The Monitor/Clara Sandoval)

“It was difficult,” Flores said. “With Angel (Solis) being one of our seniors, we’ve been riding him all year. I went to talk to him on the mound, he didn’t feel very good and I had to make a tough decision to bring Hugo (Cantu) in because he’s ready every time we call his number.”

Cantu took over on the mound for La Joya and quickly took command.

The junior pitcher hurled six innings for the Coyotes in relief duty and struck out seven while allowing one run and four singles to keep the team within striking distance throughout the remainder of Game 2.

“Hugo has that kind of character where he’s not phased by any team or anybody in the box,” Flores said. “He’s shown it all year and he’s shown it since his freshman year.”

But after struggling to put runners in scoring position during Friday night’s narrow loss, the Coyotes were unable to drive in runners that were able to get into scoring position.

La Joya scored twice during the second on RBI singles by Guajardo and right fielder Mario Salinas using aggressive base running to their advantage.

The Coyotes combined to steal seven bases on the day led by Salinas’ three and shortstop Alan Delgado’s two, which gave La Joya High needed opportunities to chip away at Eagle Pass’ lead.

La Joya’s Alan Delgado (30) dives back to 1st base in game 2 in a Region IV-6A quarterfinal game at Veterans Field on Saturday, May 22 2021. (Special To The Monitor/Clara Sandoval)

La Joya’s undoing, however, resulted from leaving runners in scoring position in six of seven innings. In total, half of the team’s 16 base runners were stranded at either second or third base to end an inning.

The Coyotes were kept out of scoring position entirely on the basepaths during their Game 1 defeat.

That inability to capitalize coupled with another stellar pitching performance by Eagle Pass ultimately thwarted La Joya High’s comeback hopes.

“We knew we could steal off of their catcher, we just didn’t execute at the times we had to,” Flores said. “We had runners in scoring position, but we just couldn’t execute. My hat goes off to Eagle Pass. They pitched great in those two games and I’ve got to congratulate them.”

The victory vaults Eagle Pass into the Region IV-6A semifinals against Smithson Valley, while the loss ends the Coyotes season that featured an unbeaten run to a District 31-6A championship and Round 3 postseason appearance after a promising 2020 season that was cut short.

“We have a real good group, a really good core, and they’ve been working hard together despite the pandemic,” Flores said. “I know they’re going to continue working hard.”

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