SAN BENITO — PSJA North center fielder Victoria Espinoza stepped up to the plate during the seventh inning Saturday afternoon needing to make something happen.
The Raiders were down to their final out with base runners parked at second and third base, with Espinoza representing the potential tying run.
After watching two strikes pass by, Espinoza unloaded on a rise ball over the heart of the plate and launched a towering home run over the fence between the left and center fielders.
Her colossal three-run home run — the third Raiders blast of the day — capped off a four-run, two-out rally to force extra innings and eventually propel PSJA North past San Benito 9-8 in Game 2 of their bi-district series and into the area round of the Class 6A playoffs.
“I was extremely nervous when I walked up, but I knew I had the team behind me. They were cheering, the coaches were with me and the girls on base were cheering me on,” Espinoza said. “The moment I hit it, I knew. I was just like, ‘Wow.’ It was so insane and crazy.”
“It feels amazing,” first baseman Clarissa Morales said. “We wanted to come in here and dominate. We didn’t want to have to play another game and we knew no matter what, we had to play as hard as we could. Even though we would’ve had another chance, we wanted to get this out of the way and we kept on fighting.”
During a matchup that featured more momentum swings than a pendulum rocking back and forth, the Raiders and Greyhounds took turns displaying offensive fireworks.
San Benito raced out to an early lead in a must-win Game 2 after catcher Jordan Ramos crushed the first of five home runs between the two teams.
PSJA North, however, quickly responded with a pair of moonshot home runs off the bats of Ariella Saenz and Hailey Garza to claim a 3-1 advantage.
The Greyhounds kept chipping away at North’s advantage, though, and struck back by scoring three runs in the fourth following an infield error before tacking onto their lead with Katelyn Garza’s three-run shot to left field in the fifth.
“At first when they scored, it made us want to win even more. Their cheering made us kind of mad,” Espinoza said. “Without those (home runs) — from both teams — it would’ve been a totally different game. The excitement wouldn’t have been as big as it was, but I’m actually glad it happened because it drove both (sides) to play as hard as we could.”
The Raiders were unable to garner enough offensive consistency to make a dent in San Benito’s 8-4 lead until their backs were up against the wall during the final frame.
After right fielder Luera Kristiana singled to lead off the seventh, PSJA North capitalized on an overthrow to first base to ignite a two-out rally.
Catcher Angel Lozano slapped an RBI double down the left-field line, before Espinoza’s home run in the ensuing at-bat knotted the score at 8.
Two innings later, Lozano and Espinoza earned their way on base again, which allowed Morales to tap an RBI single to centerfield that brought the go-ahead run in from second base.
Saenz then slammed the door shut for PSJA North during the bottom of the ninth, stranding the potential tying run for San Benito at second.
“It’s just that adrenaline that pushes you,” Morales said. “It’s a great feeling to have knowing every player in your lineup can do some damage and score. It’s really special because every single person came in clutch and everyone did their job. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”
The victory moved PSJA North to 26-1-1 on the season and pushes the team into the area round of the 6A playoffs, where the Raiders will face San Antonio Brennan (15-8) with game times and locations still to be determined.
“We need to keep the team together,” Espinoza said. “We have everything we need. We have the offense and we have the defense. Other than that, it’s about the team’s energy and composure in these types of situations.”
“We’re very driven to keep on going. This is just the first step,” Morales said. “We have a lot to go and we’re excited and pumped. We’re going to keep bringing the energy we had today and as long as we do that, we’ll go as far as we can.”
RIO GRANDE CITY ELIMINATED FROM 5A PLAYOFF BY CORPUS CHRISTI RAY
The Rio Grande City Rattlers, the final playoff team left standing from District 30-5A, fell to Corpus Christi Ray 10-2 in Game 2 of their bi-district series Saturday evening in Corpus Christi.
The Rattlers, the 30-5A district champions, needed a victory to force a decisive Game 3 after falling to Ray 15-3 in Game 1 of their series Friday in Rio Grande City.
The Texans struck early on a pair of RBI doubles by Maddy Mendoza and Leah Cran during the bottom of the second to move out in front 3-0.
The Rattlers responded in the third with two RBI doubles of their own off the bats of sophomore shortstop Annabella Ramirez and freshman third baseman Layra Lazos to trim Ray’s lead to one, but were unable to ever take the lead.
The Texans, however, blew the game wide open during the bottom of the innings with four runs on four hits and coasted from that point onward to a comfortable victory and series sweep.
Corpus Christi Ray advances to the area round of the Class 5A playoffs, where it will face Brownsville Veterans with game times and locations yet to be determined.