“Walk-off” is a sports term that has emerged over the past few years, one used to describe the winning of a contest on the game’s last play. There are numerous examples. Kirk Gibson’s pinch hit home run in the bottom of the ninth off of Dennis Eckersley in Game One of the 1988 World Series gave the Los Angeles Dodgers a 5-4 win over the Oakland Athletics. Stefon Diggs’ dash into the end zone after catching a pass from Case Keenum on the last play of the fourth quarter in an NFL play-off game that allowed the Minnesota Vikings to take down the New Orleans Saints in 2018 on a play that has been dubbed the “Minneapolis Miracle.”
As I began reflecting on what I witnessed this past year covering the teams of the Big 7 it was rather easy for me to decide on what I thought the years’ best moments were. The first game I ever covered for this paper ended with a walk-off.
The Lady Patriots of Mission Veterans came up to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning trailing Sharyland Pioneer 4-3 in a district softball game last April. Freshman Natalie Cardenas and senior catcher Justine Galvan started the comeback with back to back hits and Veterans tied the game on pitcher Jazmine Villarreal’s RBI single. Another single from junior outfielder Arielle Quijada plated the game winner as the Lady Patriots won 5-4.
Thus began my introduction to sports in the Big 7. There has not been much of a letdown either. Each week and each sport I covered had its’ own share of exciting moments. Teams from the Big 7 garnered numerous district titles and post season victories. A good number of individual athletes posted outstanding accomplishments as well.
Still it is the walk-offs I’ll remember most.
One of the top stories of this past year was the Sharyland Pioneer baseball teams’ playoff run all the way to the Class 5A state semi-finals. That run included a memorable regional final match-up against rival Sharyland High that the Diamondbacks won in a two game sweep at UTRGV.
What many may not recall is the best of three bi-district match-up against Corpus Christi Veterans in May. After dropping Game 1, the Diamondbacks found themselves down 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh inning in what would be, if the lead held, a season ending loss in Game 2. Down to their last out, Pioneer rallied to tie it and, one inning later, win it 2-1 on an Angel Nunez RBI double. Evan Maldonado pitched a complete game for the Diamondbacks to aid the effort. After falling behind early in Game 3, another comeback resulted in a 7-2 win that kept their history making season moving forward.
The drama continued this past fall with a pair of games on the gridiron and one on the volleyball court.
Trailing 35-31 the La Joya Palmview Lobos football team knocked off Mission Veterans in early November when Alexis Gonzalez snagged a tipped pass from David Gonzalez out of the air in the back of the end zone to score on the game’s last play to defeat the Patriots 37-35.
Unfortunately, not every big moment in 2019 produced a happy ending.
The Sharyland Lady Rattlers lost a five set heartbreaker to the Edcouch-Elsa Lady Jackets in a bi-district volleyball contest a few days after the Palmview-Veterans football game. While not technically a walk-off, there still has to be a final winning point made to end a match and the way this match went back and forth, particularly the final game, it definitely had the feel of any of the other previously mentioned contests. Seniors Tristan Maddox, Marissa Jones and Andrea Espinoza had big games along with junior Ana Paola Cerda and sophomore Marianna Martinez.
The Mission Eagles 38-35 overtime loss to the Laredo United Longhorns in a bi-district football play-off game in mid-November also ended on the games’ last play. After a late game touchdown pass from Jeremy Duran to Jose Cortez III forced overtime, the Eagles took a three point lead on a Rene Rodriguez field goal on their first possession. The Longhorns won it a few plays later with an 11-yard touchdown pass on their first possession.
To me these contests were, however, about much more than a big win or a tough-to-handle loss. Each contest was an important one in the overall setting in which it occurred. The Lady Patriots were fighting for a play-off spot. The Lobos secured a play-off spot with their victory. The other three contests occurred in the post season; either extending, or ending, a team’s season.
Each contest also required a comeback in order to set up the finish. The Lady Patriots, Diamondbacks and Lobos all trailed going into the end stages of their eventual victories. The Lady Rattlers were down 2-0 after the first two games of their contest and had to win two games of their own to force a fifth one. The Eagles trailed numerous times in their game and needed a long touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to force overtime.
That’s something to think about as we start a new year. We are all probably going to have some big moments. We may even have to make a comeback. Whatever the case may be here’s hoping you start off (and walk-off) with a great 2020.
This article originally appeared in the Friday Jan.3, 2020 digital issue of the Progress Times.