WESLACO — After what appeared to have the early makings of a pitchers’ duel in the first game of their best-of-three playoff series, the Weslaco High Panthers quickly found themselves in a hole.
A pair of Edinburg Vela home runs erased three innings of no-hit softball for Weslaco and put the team behind at home for just the second time in the last three weeks.
But the Panthers refused to stay behind for long, landing five of their first six hitters on base to start the bottom half of the inning and pouncing on the SaberCats as part of a six-run fourth inning.
Weslaco rode that momentum and used an explosive night at the plate to score 10 straight runs and rally for a come-from-behind 10-4 victory over Edinburg Vela on Thursday in Game 1 of their Class 6A bi-district playoff series at Weslaco High School.
“We just knew we had a lot of game left,” junior catcher Jules Garcia said. “We put our bats together and got hit after hit. We really came through, everybody came through. We’ve been through this situation before, so it was nothing new (for us).”
“It’s not the first time we’ve been down by three,” senior right fielder Jordan Diaz said. “We knew what we had to do. We were going to put our bats on and that’s what we did.”
Diaz and Garcia each played vital roles in sparking Weslaco’s huge fourth-inning surge offensively.
After Alexis Soliz plated the team’s first run on a sac fly, the Panthers loaded the bases with a single and back-to-back walks when Diaz stepped into the batter’s box.
The Panthers’ senior pulverized a line drive to deep center field that bounced off the top of the fence, driving in two runs to tie the game and resulting in a stand-up double.
Three batters later with the bases loaded again, Garcia crushed a high fly ball to the deepest part of center that careened off the wall and emptied the bases.
The three-run double put the Panthers squarely in control and gave the team an enormous burst of energy that translated to its on-field performance for the remainder of the night.
“I think that was a big part of how we played tonight, especially with our props (in the dugout) and our fans getting excited with us,” Diaz said. “We want to give a big shoutout to our parents for hyping us up down there on the field.”
Diaz struck again with the bases loaded for Weslaco during the fifth, singling up the middle through the gap between the shortstop and second baseman to drive in two more runs.
Weslaco added another two runs in the sixth to flip a three-run deficit into a seven-run advantage, as Garcia and Diaz combined for a 3-for-8 night at the plate, 7 RBIs, two doubles and a run.
As a team, the Panthers were able to push across nine of 13 runners in scoring position from the fourth inning onward after being held to only one infield hit through the first three innings.
“We’ve prepared for them and those moments all season,” Garcia said. “We’ve practiced a lot on line drives and running on anything and everything hit in the air. It’s really helped.”
Weslaco improves to 16-4 and takes a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
Vela, the 24th-ranked 6A team in the Texas Girls Coaches Association poll, falls to 15-4 and must win two games in a row to advance to the area round.
The SaberCats will host the Panthers for Game 2 at 7 tonight in Edinburg, with the decisive Game 3 set to return to Weslaco at 5 p.m. Saturday, if necessary.
“We’re going to improve even more tomorrow, even though we did an amazing job out today. The energy was so high and everyone did so good,” Diaz said. “We’re going to rest tonight and come out with even more energy and more excitement, but the same mentality.”