MISSION — For the first time in school history, Sharyland Pioneer is headed to the regional quarterfinals of the state softball playoffs.
After eviscerating Edcouch-Elsa in the bi-district round and rallying to flatline regional powerhouse Corpus Christi Flour Bluff in their area matchup, the Diamondbacks storm into Round 3 of the postseason for the first time in the program’s eight-year history.
Pioneer (21-5-2), the District 30-5A champions and the last Rio Grande Valley team standing in the Class 5A playoffs, is set to write the next chapter of its postseason push when the team faces off against District 29-5A co-champion Victoria West in a best-of-three regional quarterfinals series.
The D’backs and Warriors will begin their series with Game 1 at 6:30 p.m. Friday continuing with Game 2 at 1 p.m. Saturday and concluding with a potential Game 3 later Saturday afternoon if necessary. All games are set to be played at San Diego High School.
“It feels awesome to be the first team in Pioneer’s softball program history to go this far into the postseason,” senior first baseman Kayla Monjaras said. “It’s an awesome feeling and everyone is really excited.”
“I think it’s more about being part of the group than making history,” sophomore pitcher Reaghan Staehely said. “This is a great group of girls we have here. Everyone is so nice and we all complement each other and hit well.”
The Diamondbacks have cut their teeth against a tough slate of some of South Texas’ top 5A programs to advance to Round 3.
In their four playoff victories thus far, the D’backs outscored the Yellow Jackets and Hornets by a 27-6 margin.
Pioneer responded to its lone postseason loss, a 9-0 Game 1 defeat to Flour Bluff, in authoritative fashion by rallying for a pair of wire-to-wire wins in Games 2 and 3 to become the first team to deny the Hornets a return trip to the regional quarterfinals since 2017.
“The big thing has been that we never really gave up,” junior second baseman Arianna Ale said. “I think that’s one of the main reasons why we’re such a good team under pressure. We also have that great bond that gets us through those tough situations.”
“It was our confidence in our team. We all trust each other on and off the field with our sticks and our defense,” Monjaras said. “We knew we would get it together and we thought we should because we were good enough to beat them, a good team like that. We proved we can compete and keep it going.”
The Diamondbacks’ resilience in moments where their backs have been against the wall have defined their most recent playoff push, a mindset molded after the team’s promising 2020 season was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pioneer’s season stopped abruptly after an 11-2 start that featured marquee victories against Copperas Cove, Harlingen South, Lampasas, Marble Falls and San Antonio Churchill.
That experience has made the D’backs more determined than ever before to maximize each of their opportunities on the diamond and given the team an insatiable hunger to keep marching deep into the playoffs to test their mettle against perennial powers upstate.
“That was our wake-up call. You hear from everyone, ‘You never know when it could be your last game,’” Staehely said. “Last year was that awakening where we realized that it could actually happen. … It was the idea of it ending so soon. We were all hungry (then) and we’re even hungrier now.”
“We’ve wanted to prove everybody wrong. We’re a super underrated team and for us to come out like this is pretty awesome,” Monjaras said. “We’re making a statement that we’re good enough to be out there competing against all these good teams up north.”
The D’backs have been bolstered on the field by one of the RGV’s most dynamic pitching duos in Staehely and junior Ilyssa Casanova.
Casanova and Staehely have combined for 15 strikeouts in their four playoff wins and yielded 2.75 runs per contest in those victories while delivering poise under pressure in the circle.
“Whenever I struggle, I know Reaghan is going to come in and deliver because I know she wants the win just as bad as everybody else does,” Casanova said. “She loves being on the mound just as much as I do. She’s such a good pitcher and she’s also a really good friend, so I’m really glad that we have that bond.”
“I know that if I have a bad game (Casanova) is going to come in and do her job like no one else has ever seen before,” Staehely said. “You can tell because she looks hungry when I’m out there with a look like, ‘Put me in.’ If I’m having a bad day, I know she’s going to come in and help me.”
Pioneer rolls into its Round 3 matchup with Victoria West as the RGV’s lone remaining representative in the 5A playoffs having already set a new high-water mark for the program, but the team remains far from satisfied.
With one of the tightest team bonds in program history and a capable lineup with a wide array of big bats, the Diamondbacks hope to atone for the postseason opportunity that was denied from them last season and prove they belong among the upper echelon of teams in Region IV-5A.
“Our bond is really strong this year compared to a couple of our teams in past years. This year, we can tell it’s a different kind of strong and there are definitely still big things ahead of us,” Ale said. “We really don’t want it to be taken away from us so easily like it was last year.”
“Last year, I think we should have made a pretty deep run in the playoffs. We had to come together and come to show out because of what happened last year. We’re proving to some people that we’ve been good enough to get this far,” Monjaras said.
“It would be amazing (to advance to Round 4). I would love to miss graduation to play ball because I have that belief in my team.”