The Harlingen High Cardinals topped the Weslaco High Panthers in a matchup between two playoff contenders to kick off district play in 32-6A

WESLACO — The Harlingen High Cardinals went on the road to open their District 32-6A slate against the unbeaten Weslaco High Panthers on Tuesday night and emerged with a key victory behind timely hitting and lights-out pitching.

Senior pitcher Audrie Sayas notched a 14-strikeout complete game and sophomore shortstop Alexa Perez mashed a solo home run and scored twice to lift the Cardinals to a 4-1 road victory over the Panthers to begin district play in a deep 32-6A.

“Our district is top-notch in the Valley,” second-year Harlingen head coach Josh Silva said. “Every week, Monday and Friday, when we play in our district is going to be a battle to see who’s going to be able to stay in the playoff (hunt), let alone win it.

“We’ve got to play tough every game and stay locked in. That’s what we did tonight. We had some great pitching tonight too and that’s all you can ask for”

Harlingen was off and running from the first at-bat of the evening Tuesday.

Perez led off the top of the first inning with a stand-up double to deep left field and was followed by a fielder’s choice on a grounder between the circle and first base and a bloop single to shallow center field to load the bases with no outs.

April Garcia recorded the first RBI of the night to put Harlingen on the board with a pop-up to the left side of the infield that was bobbled and dropped to plate Perez from third base.

Weslaco pitcher Katia Reyes, however, was sharp inside the circle and got the Panthers out of the jam with back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning. Reyes ended the night with 10 strikeouts for Weslaco.

“That’s the funky thing about this game: you’ve got to be able to capitalize on some errors,” Silva said. “(Reyes) was throwing well and had good velocity tonight, but we stayed disciplined and put the ball in the play when we needed to. We have great hitters ourselves and they’ll take anything they’re given.”

Perez wasn’t done yet for Harlingen, though.

The Cardinals’ shortstop crushed a line-drive, lead-off home run in the top of the third to push her team’s lead to 2-0. She ended the night with a stellar 2-for-2 line with a walk, double, solo home run and two RBIs at the plate.

“I had two strikes, actually, and I knew there was no way I could get myself out. I had to get on somehow,” Perez said. “I just knew I had to stay confident as a lead-off hitter and find a way to get on for my team.”

“She’s been working hard. She’s an experienced senior and tonight she showed it,” Silva said. “That’s good club over there and anyone on that roster can take you deep, so she handled it well.”

Sayas was equally imposing inside the circle for Harlingen.

The Cardinals’ senior carried a no-hit bid into the fifth inning that was broken up by an infield single from Weslaco’s Lilly Torres, one of only two hits for the Panthers in the game. Sayas’ scorching rise ball kept the Panthers’ hitters off balance all night.

“What was really working for me was knowing that my team was behind me,” Sayas said. “Pitching-wise, it was my rise ball. … It looked really good for us because (Weslaco) is such a well-put-together team for us to come play against. I really enjoyed this win on our part against such a good ballclub.”

Weslaco scored its only run of the contest on an error after a hard-hit ball down the line sailed over the head of the Harlingen first baseman, allowing a runner to score from first and the batter to advance to third on the throw.

Harlingen padded its lead in the top of the sixth with an RBI double off the bat of April Garcia and again in the seventh inning with an RBI double to the wall in right field by Andrea Salinas.

The victory improves Harlingen to 3-0 on the season and drops Weslaco to 4-1 to begin what should be a tight race to the postseason and the 32-6A title in the deepest softball district throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

“We’re going to need dominating performances,” Silva said. “My message to the girls was we have to carry that playoff mentality from the get-go and every (district) game is do-or-die.”

“It feels really great,” Perez said. “A lot of people have been doubting us, but it feels great to be on top right now,” Perez said. “I just think we need to keep the same energy we’ve been coming with and work together as a team to keep winning.”

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