Cardinals open postseason with run-rule victory over Bobcats

HARLINGEN — Two big innings lifted the Harlingen High Cardinals to a bi-district-series-opening victory over Edinburg High on Thursday.

Harlingen High played like the higher seeded team, taking advantage of errors committed by the Bobcats and executing in all phases of the game to earn the 10-0 win. The District 32-6A champion Cardinals will look to close out the series and advance with a win in Game 2, scheduled for 7 p.m. today at Edinburg High.

“We came out with great energy, so that was a plus. We wanted Game 1 here, and we did what we had to. Now it’s our turn to go over there and look for an upset over there,” Cardinals coach Armando Rangel said.

Junior pitcher Ricky Montelongo tossed six scoreless innings, allowing only three hits and striking out eight Bobcats. He struggled with control for a stretch as the game went on, but the Cardinals’ defense had his back.

Harlingen High left fielder Hunter Rodriguez hustled to cover a lot of ground and snag a foul ball on the fence during the fifth. In the sixth, Montelongo and catcher Jeremy Cavazos combined to record two quick outs on a punch-out followed by a laser throw by Cavazos to second to catch a runner stealing.

Edinburg High loaded the bases with two away in the frame on an error, a single by Arturo Martinez and a hit batsman. The Cardinals gathered around Montelongo to calm him down, and the pitcher drew a high foul pop that first baseman Miguel Ortiz snagged to end the Bobcats’ biggest scoring threat.

“Our pitcher did a great job of throwing strikes,” Rangel said. “That’s the key when you’re in the playoffs, you have to throw a lot of strikes, and he did a great job of throwing strikes when he had to. The guys are going to hit the ball, so the defense has to be on and they were on today. They played great defense behind (Montelongo), and that’s been all year for us.”

Edinburg High southpaw JR Soto was a contact pitcher, and for most of the game the Bobcats’ defense corralled grounders and kept the Cardinals off the board. But when the defense slipped up, Harlingen High capitalized. Three consecutive free bases issued with two away in the first inning allowed the first Cardinals run to score on a wild pitch.

“You have to tip your hat to them, they were well-prepared and had a good second inning, and they jumped on us,” Edinburg High coach Robert Valdez said. “We’re a young ballclub overall, but you can’t use jitters as an excuse. You get to this level, you can’t give extra outs, you can’t give walks. They were the beneficiary of all that tonight, and the scoreboard was evident.”

In the second, Harlingen High turned to small ball and reached base on bunts as the Bobcats struggled to finish on fielder’s choice contact. Cavazos and Ortiz recorded back-to-back singles to drive in three runs and put the Cardinals on top 5-0 after two innings of play.

“We always try to put pressure on our opponent, and it all depends on what they give us. Today we were able to bunt for hits, and if they give us that we’re going to take that and put pressure on them to make the plays,” Rangel said.

Soto worked quickly through the order during the next three innings, and Edinburg High caught two aggressive Cardinals baserunners attempting to steal for outs.

In the sixth, the floodgates opened again and Harlingen High jumped all over a new Bobcats pitcher. Shortstop Thomas Lyssy sent a two-run double to right, then second baseman Jacob Marroquin smoked a run-scoring double down the third-base line.

After an error and a walk, third baseman Ethan Cepeda knocked a run with a single to activate the run rule.

“You look at our records, and we’re missing 15 games off our schedule, that’s a big difference,” Valdez said. “But we’re not going to make excuses. We’ll go back to the house and get our thoughts together because we have a quick turnaround. Best team’s going to prevail in a three-game series. We just have to take it one inning at a time.”