MARION – While it took some time to manifest, the Hays Rebel softball team showcased its offensive muscle last week en route to punching a ticket to the regional quarterfinals.
An eight run, three-inning flurry, highlighted by home runs from Max Valdez, Annaliese Rodriguez and Katie Noble, pushed Hays, now ranked 4th in Class 6A, to an 8-2 Game 2 win over the San Antonio Holmes Huskies. By completing an area round sweep, Hays advances to the regional quarterfinal round for the first time since the 2016 season.
But with a playoff rematch against the powerhouse New Braunfels Canyon Cougarettes on the horizon, Rodriguez said getting off on the right foot will be a critical component.
“We can’t go out flat. If we start flat, we end flat, we have to start strong. That’s the only thing we’re focusing on,” Rodriguez said. “Just coming out hot.”
Starting off strong at the plate was initially a struggle for Rebel batters when they faced Holmes left-handed pitcher Jalissa Alicea, who pitched in both area round games. Lisa Cone, Hays head coach, said the Rebels had faced only one left-handed pitcher during a preseason scrimmage.
Rodriguez said she had a hard time finding and locating the ball initially as they were used to the delivery of a right-handed pitcher.
That changed through adjustments made at the plate, as well as batters getting used to Alicea’s pitches over the course of two contests, Cone said.
Anchoring the effort was Rebel pitcher Max Valdez who allowed no runs on four hits while striking out 12 across 12 total innings in the series. Cone said constant adjustments to batters and the strike zone made enough changes to keep Holmes batters, who entered the series with a .412 batting team average, off-balance. That included limiting the output of Holmes’ Erykah Guerrero, Alyssa Rojas and Grace Martinez, who all had batting averages at .460 or higher.
Teamwork equally was a pivotal factor for success, Valdez said.
“I had to keep it low and kept hitting my spots,” Valdez said. “I knew if I missed, they’re going to capitalize on it. Had to keep working on my spots.”
The Rebels took a 1-0 series lead when they defeated Holmes 2-0 in the first contest at Smithson Valley High. Both runs were scored by virtue of back-to-back RBI base hits in the third frame from Kari Louk and Brianna Rodriguez.
Hays burst the floodgates open in the fourth frame of Game 2 when they leapt out to a 3-0 lead aided by a two-run home run from Valdez and a solo home run by Rodriguez. Noble followed with a two-run home run in the fifth inning to give Hays a 5-0 lead.
Three more Rebel runs crossed the plate in the sixth inning off the bats of Rodriguez, Amaya Guerrero and Emma Morales, who all tallied an RBI base hit. Cone said battling when behind in the count led to success.
Brianna Rodriguez led Hays by going 4 for 7 in the series, while Noble went 3 for 7 with a team-high three RBIs.
“They were battling and wanting to finish it tonight and that desire to win and do a great job, it helped us a lot,”
The spotlight now turns to Canyon and a looming best-of-3 regional quarterfinal series between two programs ranked in the top 10 of the Texas Girls Coaches Association (TGCA) state 6A poll. Canyon eliminated Hays in the area round of the playoffs en route to their 2018 state run.
Cone, along with Valdez, said playing their game and going in with confidence will be important.
“It’s still the game of softball. They have to play the same game we’re playing and hit the same ball,” Cone said. “We have a great team.”