LOS FRESNOS — “Defense wins championships” is a popular phrase thrown around in sports.
The Los Fresnos Falcons have been relying on a stout defense to get them the closest to a state championship they’ve ever been.
Eight of the starters boast fielding percentages above .900, and as a team the Falcons are executing to the tune of a .956 fielding percentage. Los Fresnos hasn’t committed a defensive error in two consecutive playoff games and has only allowed seven runs in a postseason journey turning heads across Texas — partially because of the luck coach Rene Morales has had winning logistical flips.
For the third consecutive round and fourth of five this postseason, Los Fresnos will be playing in its preferred one-game format. The Falcons (22-6-2) will face off with Smithson Valley (34-5) in the Region IV-6A final at 4 p.m. today at the Cabaniss Athletic Complex in Corpus Christi. A win will send the Falcons to the Class 6A state tournament for the first time.
“We have an amazing defense, and our outfield has been on lockdown. We’ll have our horse on the mound. We’re lucky to have all our players working right now, everybody’s clicking, and it’s just a good situation we’re in,” catcher Jacob Sandoval said.
“I’d rather play one game than two out of three. It’s more exciting that way. Winner takes all,” he added. “Even though other teams might say it should be two out of three, state’s not like that. It’s one game. We’re preparing for state. … (People say) we’re ‘just a Valley team,’ so we get our fire from that. Nobody believes in us, but we believe in ourselves.”
Los Fresnos’ “horse” is senior southpaw Victor Loa, who has been brilliant on the mound. He has a 0.77 ERA through 27 2/3 innings with 14 hits and 37 strikeouts, and has a 1.000 FP. The rapport Sandoval and Loa have developed allows Morales to trust the duo to call the game itself.
Behind the battery, the Falcons have a defense that has been consistently improving through the playoffs. The day after punching its ticket to Round 5, Los Fresnos got straight to work preparing for the regional final. The coaching staff puts in long hours getting a game plan together, and the players absorb every detail and practice hard. The effort has been evident.
Junior left fielder Hector Muniz, senior center fielder Germain Castillo and junior right fielder Matthew Padilla made some spectacular plays in the outfield to aid an upset victory over Round Rock High in the regional semifinal. They leave it all on the field, diving for catches and hustling to scoop up knocks in the gaps.
“I feel like our outfield is probably the fastest in the state,” Muniz said. “As you get further into the playoffs, one error can cost you the entire game. We drill that into our heads. In order to win the game, we have to play perfect baseball from infield to outfield. … (Smithson Valley is) in the fifth round for a reason. They’re a solid team. We just have to keep playing perfect baseball and be ready for anything.”
Smithson Valley’s lineup features five Division I commits and won 13 games by double digits this season. The Rangers are 8-1 in the playoffs and racked up a whopping 20 hits in the regional semifinal finale against Eagle Pass.
Los Fresnos isn’t intimidated. The Falcons shut down Round Rock’s hot offense last week, and sophomore shortstop Josh Munoz believes they can do that again in the Elite Eight.
But they’re not going into the matchup overly confident or allowing themselves to be overwhelmed by the daunting prospect of being 21 outs away from state. Munoz said the Falcons are trusting in each other and the work they put in, and will just enjoy playing another game with the seniors.
“We know they’re a good offensive team, so any ball hit to us, we just have to make sure that play gets done right. Make every play possible. At the end of the day, the team that makes the routine plays will be the team to win,” Munoz said. “We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. Just going one game at a time and trying to stay humble. Just be confident and trust what we do at practice.”