A season to remember

Coyotes out to make 2021 even more memorable

Three weeks ago Progress Times sports writer John Hamann wrote about the La Joya Coyotes baseball team clinching their first outright district championship since the 2008 season. They had just defeated the PSJA Bears by a score of 9-4 to remain undefeated in district play with a 14-0 record, and to clinch the title with two games to go. The fact that Coach Mario Flores’ team had put a string of 14 wins in a row together was impressive enough, but when I learned that the Coyotes had never trailed at any point in any of those games, I was shocked!

As a life-long baseball fan, it is my belief that of all the major sports, baseball is the hardest to put long win streaks together. Why? For several reasons, but mostly because, unlike football teams that have the same quarterback lead the offense game after game and unlike basketball teams that have the same point guard and center on the court game in and game out, baseball teams have pitching rotations with a different pitcher on the mound every two, three or even four games. Also, unlike the other major sports, where at critical points in the game the coach can call a play that will put the ball in the best players’ hands, each baseball team’s batting order determines which player will be coming up to bat with the game on the line. It could be the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the winning run on base, but unless a pinch hitter is brought in, the player that will be at the plate will be whichever batter is next in the line-up.

So the fact that the Coyotes have since finished their District 31-6A schedule with a 16-0 record, and as was the case three weeks ago, never trailed at any point in any of those games, are two amazing achievements that have already made their 2021 season one to remember. And while there is still work to be done, as the Coyotes open the bi-district round of the playoffs against the Weslaco Panthers tonight, this is as good a time as any to take a look at what it is about the Coyotes that not only has them heading into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, but also has them ranked as a top ten team in the state of Texas in both the THSBCA and the THSB/Diamond Pro polls.

While Flores, the Coyotes’ fifth year head coach, expected his team to have a good, and possibly even a breakout, season, even he could not have predicted going 16-0.

“The kids have been very dedicated and they’ve been working hard all summer, despite the pandemic,” Flores said. “I knew that we were going to have a good season, but I never expected this kind of season. I’m happy for them (his players), I’m happy for the seniors that put in the work and I’m real happy for them.”

While Flores credits his entire team’s hard work for making this season such a success so far, it is his pitchers that he believes deserve the lion’s share of the credit.

“I have a good group of young men that work really hard,” Flores said. “I have to give credit to our pitching staff that I think allowed maybe one or two earned runs the whole season. That’s amazing. I’ve never been part of a pitching rotation that has put those numbers together. I’m really happy for them.”

The pitching staff that Flores has learned to count on each and every time they take the mound is made up of two juniors and one senior.

“J.C. Gutierrez, our lefty is a junior and a Texas Tech commit,” Flores said. “He’s shown a lot of growth and a lot of leadership. He’s really taken control of that rotation. And then we have Angel Solis, he’s my senior. He’s very hungry and wants the ball all the time. He’s done a very, very good job not only on the mound but also off the field as a leader. Then we have Hugo Cantu (junior). He’s always come up and closed our games at times when we really needed him. He’s really come through.”

According to Flores, a Coyotes’ baseball team has not made it past the first round of the playoffs since 2010. As amazing as this season has been thus far, how deep into the playoffs the Coyotes go will be the deciding factor on how this season, and this team, will be remembered.

“We want to rewrite history and go deep into the playoffs,” Flores said. “I know that we haven’t gone deep in a long time. I know that we’re taking our playoff games one game at a time but I’m sure that the kids want to go deep and have a good playoff run.”

The Coyotes’ best of three series against the Panthers will be played at PSJA SW High School in Pharr. Game No. 1 is scheduled to be played tonight at 7. Game No. 2 is scheduled to be played tomorrow afternoon at 3 and game No. 3, if necessary, is scheduled to be played tomorrow evening at 6.

The other four Big 7 baseball teams to qualify for the playoffs are all 5A teams. Here are each of their bi-district round matchups and schedules.

If all went as scheduled, the 11-3 Sharyland Rattlers opened their best of three series against Weslaco East last night at 7 at Weslaco East High School. Game No. 2 is scheduled to be played tonight at 7 at Sharyland High School and game No. 3, if necessary, is scheduled to be played tomorrow evening at 7 at Weslaco East.

The 12-2 Pioneer Diamondbacks will be taking on Brownsville Porter in a best of three series that is scheduled to kick off tonight at 7 at Porter High School. Game No. 2 is scheduled to be played tomorrow at 2 p.m. and game No. 3, if necessary, is scheduled to be played 30 minutes after the end of game No. 2. Saturday’s game, or games, will be played at Pioneer High School.

The 8-2 Palmview Lobos are scheduled to open their best of three series against Corpus Christi Ray today at 5:30 p.m. at the La Joya baseball complex. Game No. 2 is scheduled to be played tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 and game No. 3, if necessary, is scheduled to be played tomorrow at a time to be announced later. Saturday’s game, or games, will be played at Cabaniss Field in Corpus Christi.

The 4-6 Mission Veterans Patriots are scheduled to open their best of three series against Gregory Portland tonight at 7 at Veterans Memorial High School. Game No. 2 is scheduled to be played tomorrow afternoon at 2 and game No. 3, if necessary, is scheduled to be played 30 minutes after the completion of game No. 2. Saturday’s game, or games, will be played at Gregory Portland High School.

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