Valley View's Melanie Perez (13) releases a pitch to Palmview's Bianca Fernandez (6) during the 4th inning of a softball game at Palmview High school softball field on Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | dlopez@themonitor.com)

PHARR — The Valley View Tigers were unsure if they would get the opportunity to take to the diamond to play out their 2021 season.

But, despite the COVID-19 pandemic that interrupted softball season throughout the Rio Grande Valley and beyond, the Tigers made the most of their opportunities during their return to competition this year.

Valley View rallied after a sluggish start to reach the Class 5A playoffs for the first time in program history.

Now, the Tigers are eager to prove they’re right where they belong and are set for a bi-district clash in a best-of-three series against one of the Valley’s perennial powers, the Mercedes Tigers, beginning at 7 tonight in Mercedes.

“We had no idea if we were even going to be able to play or not,” junior first baseman Ariana Rosales said. “Then, when we were told that we were going to have a season, we were still unsure if we’d be able to finish or if our season would end up getting cut short like the year before, especially during the first part of the season. We were told to play each game like it would be our last because we were so unsure.”

Valley View has played each game with playoff intensity during a season that had the potential to be interrupted at any point and in which nothing has been guaranteed.

The Tigers have relied heavily on their veteran leadership, headlined by a group of seniors who began the team’s ascent toward the postseason as freshmen and have helped build the program under fourth-year head coach Nery Bustos’ staff.

“In the beginning, we weren’t the strongest team. In my first year of high school, we would show up to the games, but we wouldn’t have the best outcomes,” senior shortstop Emma Gonzalez said. “As seniors, we have worked hard these past four years to get to where we are today. It couldn’t be done without all of us working as a team and believing in each other.”

Valley View’s Emma Gonzalez (1) throws to first base during the 4th inning of a softball game at Palmview High school softball field on Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | dlopez@themonitor.com)

Gonzalez and catcher Kassandra Gordillo headline a group of four seniors who have witnessed firsthand the Tigers’ rise during their four-year varsity careers.

The group came tantalizingly close to clinching its first postseason berth as freshmen and sophomores after finishing five and three games, respectively, out of securing a playoff spot after Valley View combined to win two of 56 district games in the four years prior to the group’s arrival.

Gonzalez, Gordillo and their teammates had the Tigers positioned squarely in the thick of the playoff hunt last year and appeared to be on track for a breakthrough campaign before the pandemic ended their season at the beginning of their district slate.

Now, bolstered by a talented group of juniors and a collection of freshmen and sophomores who have stepped up as key contributors, Valley View has finally broken through and earned its first-ever trip to the postseason.

“Honestly, it feels like such an accomplishment and like all the work we’ve put in has paid off,” Rosales said. “This is my third year being part of this program, and every year playoffs was always a goal that we just missed. To finally be able to meet that goal, especially during a year like this one with the obstacles COVID has put in our way, it feels great.”

Valley View’s Jocelyn Jimenez (3), Ariana Rosales (17) and Melanie Perez (13) wait to tag out a baserunner Palmview’s Bianca Fernandez (6) during the 3rd inning of a softball game at Palmview High school softball field on Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | dlopez@themonitor.com)

“It feels great to accomplish something so big that has been on our minds for years,” Gonzalez said. “It’s amazing that I was part of the first group to make it to the playoffs as a senior. Hard work and dedication have played a great role for my teammates and I. It’s (been) an unbelievable experience.”

The Tigers’ dynamic lineup has helped fuel their rise by continually delivering in crunch time at the plate.

Valley View won its final three games against district competition, notching wins over McAllen High, McAllen Memorial and PSJA Southwest to surge past the Bulldogs and Mustangs in the final week of the regular season.

With their backs against the wall in their final district contest against McHi, the Tigers rallied to score three runs in the final frame, capped off by a walkoff RBI double by Gordillo to punch Valley View’s ticket to the playoffs.

“We try to keep everyone up at all times, focus on scoring and moving girls over, anything that will help us get closer to home,” Gordillo said. “Once one girl starts to hit, we all want to go for more. It’s a team effort and when we’re on, it’s a bit difficult to stop our momentum.”

“After the first round with McHi, we wanted that win to secure our spot,” Gonzalez said. “We fought until the last inning knowing it wasn’t going to be an easy game and having an energetic attitude made us not lose hope on achieving our goal. Our bats came around when we most needed it, and that’s what helped us win the game.”

Valley View enters the postseason as winners of four of its last five games.

Now, the Tigers are eager to show how far they’ve come under the bright lights of the state playoffs as the program enters a new era.

“We are ready for anything coming our way. We practice hard every single day and we deserve this,” Gordillo said. “We knew we had a chance and we went for it. We did everything we could in our power (to get here), and here we are making history.”

Email: amcculloch@themonitor.com

Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch