Greyhounds defeat Hawks to clinch playoff spot

SAN BENITO — San Benito coach Ramiro Partida said his smartwatch kept reminding him to breathe during the Greyhounds’ home game against the Harlingen South Hawks.

It was a pivotal game for both District 32-6A teams’ playoff hopes, and they played like it at the start. The dugouts were loud and the teams responded when their opponents scored. Harlingen South held a one-run advantage midway through, but San Benito used two big final innings to earn a 14-7 win and clinch a playoff spot.

“Excellent win. … They knew how important this game was. We executed our game plan,” Partida said. “We never gave up, and that’s one thing I keep telling them, especially this week. We can be a great team. We just have to believe in ourselves and keep fighting, and I think today was a good sign. Down 3-0 we never stopped fighting, so good job by my boys.”

The Hawks jumped out to a 3-0 lead after the top of the first. Jonadam Bustamante knocked a leadoff double to center then came around to score on a throwing error by San Benito’s shortstop. Fernando Monterrey roped a two-run triple to right-center to pad the lead.

South’s starting pitcher, Chase Roberts, made quick work of the Greyhounds during the first. He and the Hawks caught a runner in a rundown between second and third to keep San Benito scoreless.

The Greyhounds tied things in the second and took a one-run lead after three innings, aided by some Hawks mishaps. Second baseman Rowen Garcia drove in a run on a double to right field, but walks and errors did the rest.

South reclaimed the lead with a two-run fourth behind a RBI double by Kenji Reasor and a RBI single by John Castellanos.

San Benito took the lead right back and held on tight to close the game. South’s battery struggled with control and corralling pitches in the dirt, and had to be recharged often. The Hawks used five pitchers and three catchers in the contest. Twice, a Greyhounds batter reached first after being struck out due to a passed ball.

“Kept fighting, just didn’t work out,” Hawks coach Chris Gracia said. “A couple of those passed third strikes hurt us, but you can’t really fault any one person. The pitchers did their best and catchers did their best, but sometimes unfortunately that’s just how it goes.”

San Benito took full advantage of the issues and put a four-spot on the board during a lengthy fifth inning to take an 8-6 lead it didn’t relinquish. A pair of hits by Andre Mercado and Garcia followed by four consecutive free bases issued with two outs put the Greyhounds in control.

The sixth inning played out similarly, and the Greyhounds scored six runs behind a plethora of walks and some hits with runners in scoring position. Armando Hernandez, Mercado and Bryan Lopez all recorded RBIs. South issued five walks in the frame as San Benito batted through the lineup for the second straight inning.

“When you have new catchers back there that really haven’t worked all season, that’s something that stays in the pitcher’s mind. Little things like that throw off the chemistry and you start leaving the ball up a little bit or leaving it over the plate, and it makes it easier to hit,” Gracia said.

Mercado closed the game on the mound with 1 2/3 good innings, allowing four hits and recording four strikeouts with no walks to keep South from mounting a comeback. Michael Banda got the start for San Benito, and Lopez contributed 3 1/3 solid innings of relief.

“That was somewhat our game plan. I was hoping Banda would’ve gone more innings, but our game plan was … close it with Merc. Lefty (Lopez) did a great job, did what he had to do, and Merc came in and closed it,” Partida said.

The Hawks are sitting one game behind Weslaco High for the final playoff spot with one district game remaining and still have their sights set on reaching the postseason.

“Absolutely (think we’re still in the hunt). I feel that if we’re able to get in we can play with anybody, I’m very confident in that,” Gracia said. “Our boys have heart, and we’re not going to give up. … We preach a predator mindset, so a predator’s gotta eat. We’re not worrying about anybody else, we’re just worrying about ourselves, and we’re going to keep going.”

cruz@valleystar.com