PROGRESO — Progreso was one of the few Rio Grande Valley high schools to not participate in football last fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Red Ants didn’t field boys basketball, girls basketball or volleyball teams as precautionary measures.

With a roller coaster of a school year nearing its end, the Progreso baseball team has brought a bright spot to the school and community after months of battling adversity by advancing to the area round of the playoffs for the first time in program history.

The Red Ants are set to make their Round 2 debut in a Region IV-3A one-game playoff against Hebbronville at 7 p.m. Thursday at Hebbronville High School.

“We understand the safety of the kids coming first. It was a blessing just to have a season,” Progreso head baseball coach Isaac Hernandez said. “At first, we were a little worried because the kids have been out for a year, but they came back, and this group of kids hasn’t missed a practice. They’ve showed up and worked hard. We only have two returning starters, so we’re just happy to have a season, and for it to go this way is a blessing.”

The Red Ants punched their ticket to Round 2 by dominating Edinburg IDEA 11-0 last Friday in a one-game playoff. Progreso senior pitcher Adrian Cavazos delivered a perfect game on the mound as he racked up nine strikeouts while not allowing a single base-runner.

“I just went in and pitched well and the defense played a hell of a game behind me. Nobody really expected anything from us,” Cavazos said. “We were underestimated, but we came out on top.”

A large motivating factor for the Red Ants is the experience of witnessing last year’s seniors have their season taken away from them.

“They don’t take it for granted anymore. They realize you’re not promised tomorrow,” Hernandez said. “Last year we had a great group of kids that we had since they were freshman — Samuel Cerda, Julian Alvarez, Joshua San Roman and Jerry Muñoz. They did leave their mark because they inspired these kids to be better than they were expected to.”

Progreso used the added fire to earn the No. 2 seed in District 31-3A by finishing with a 3-2 overall regular season record.

“They were like my brothers. They taught me how to handle varsity and I learned from them,” junior shortstop Ruben Zamora said. “We’re doing it for those seniors.”

Junior centerfielder Justin Meza said the cancellation of football in the fall was demoralizing, but he’s happy to be on the diamond making program history at Progreso.

“We’re there for the sports and we’re passionate about it. (Football) being taken kind of hurt, but I’m glad we got to have a baseball season,” Meza said. “I really want to try and set the culture here. I want to establish a program that’s going to win for years to come after we’re gone.”

Waiting for Progreso in the area round are the Hebbronville Longhorns in a winner-take-all one-game playoff. Hebbronville advanced to the area round by sweeping Mathis in a best-of-three bi-district series.

Luckily for the Red Ants, they know what it takes to win a high-stakes game.

“We just have to play our hearts out. Sacrifice your body, sacrifice for the ball. That’s what we have to do,” senior left fielder Brian Cabrera said.

bramos@themonitor.com