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Last team standing

Coyotes advance to third round

The La Joya Coyotes baseball team may not be the last Valley team still alive in the playoffs, but they are the last team from the Mission, Sharyland and La Joya ISDs, the Big 7, to still be playing. And with the Edinburg Vela Sabercats and the Los Fresnos Falcons being the only other Valley teams to have advanced into the third round of the UIL state playoffs, they are already in extremely select company.

La Joya junior pitcher J.C. Gutierrez delivers a pitch during game No. 1 of the Coyotes’ best-of-three bi-district playoff series against the Weslaco Panthers. Progress times photo by Luciano Guerra

As Coyotes’ fans, and our regular readers already know, with a 16-0 District 31-6A record and with the first outright district championship for a La Joya High baseball team since 2008, Coach Mario Flores’ team has already had a season to remember. But with their two games to none sweeps over Weslaco in the bi-district round (3-0, 18-12) and San Antonio Stevens in the area round (8-2, 10-4), their 2021 season is becoming more and more memorable.

Recently Flores credited his pitching staff of J. C. Gutierrez (junior), Angel Solis (senior) and Hugo Cantu (junior) for much of his team’s success. And while this terrific trio deserves a good share of the credit, the fact that the Coyotes have scored 39 runs in four playoff games is a testament to the fact that La Joya is by no means a one dimensional team.

Take for example the second game of their best-of-three bi-district round series against the Weslaco Panthers. In that game the Coyotes scored three runs in the first, one in the third, five in the fourth, two in the fifth, six in the sixth and one in the seventh. Add those all up and you’ll come up with a grand total of 18 runs! In addition, the fact that this season the Coyotes have outscored their opponents 216-59, is further proof of the fact that Coyotes’ hitters are just as proficient at the plate as Coyotes’ pitchers are on the mound.

Coyotes’ senior shortstop and lead-off man Alan Delgado, who went four for nine and six for eight in the two playoff series against Weslaco and Stevens respectively, and who is batting .429 with 36 hits, 18 RBIs and 33 runs scored in 23 games thus far this season, had high praise for the way his teammates have been performing at the plate all season long.

“Mario (Salinas), Angel (Solis), Salvador (Lopez), everyone has been coming up clutch this year, and especially in the playoffs,” Delgado said. “Mario had four hits, I think, against Stevens, Salva (Salvador) had three and Angel had a bomb with three hits. It was good.”

La Joya senior right fielder Mario Salinas believes that after having their preseason schedule altered due to the pandemic, the Coyotes’ hitters are just now hitting their stride.

“Our bats have been awake recently and everybody is playing as a team,” Salinas said. “We didn’t have tournaments to settle us in at the beginning of the season, so right now during the playoffs we’re all coming together.”

La Joya junior pitcher Hugo Cantu delivers a pitch during game No. 1 of the Coyotes’ best-of-three bi-district playoff series against the Weslaco Panthers. Progress times photo by Luciano Guerra

As successful a season as the Coyotes have had, it’s natural to expect other teams to take notice. La Joya senior left fielder Salvador Lopez has seen first-hand how their opponents look at them differently now than they have in the past, so much so that he has even noticed a look of fear in their eyes when they see the Coyotes coming.

“We have (seen fear) and I’m glad we have,” Lopez said. “We showed it during district play, going 16-0 undefeated. There’s a little bit of respect right there. And it feels pretty good to be respected and the respect we’re getting, and all that comes with it. I’m pretty sure other teams have a little scare in them when they hear about us.”

While the pandemic has limited the number of fans in the stands at Coyotes’ games, it has not kept members of the LJISD administration and school board away. That is something that senior pitcher and center fielder Angel Solis really appreciates.

“It feels really good to have the school board members come see us play,” Solis said. “For them to take the time to come see us, to congratulate us and to talk to us makes us feel special.”

Next up for the Coyotes in the regional quarterfinal round of the state playoffs is 9-3 (20-10 overall) Eagle Pass. The Eagles finished in third place among 30-6A teams and defeated San Antonio O’Connor (4-0, 4-0) in the bi-district round and the Harlingen Cardinals (10-0, 1-3, 5-3) in the area round to earn the right to take on the Coyotes.

When asked if he and his teammates are doing anything different to prepare for Eagles Pass, Delgado said, “We’re just keeping the same routine as always. We’re always trying to put up runs, and like coach (Flores) said, we’re out to win every inning, every inning we’re out to win, and that’s going to bring us to success.”

As for Solis, he’s looking forward to taking on the Eagles, and he has no doubt that he and his teammates are up to their next challenge.

“Heck ya we’re ready,” exclaimed Solis. “We’ve already seen how good they are and we can definitely take them on. They just have one good pitcher and they’re probably the same as, or maybe a little bit better than, the teams we’ve already beaten.”

The best of three series between the Coyotes and the Eagles is scheduled to be played at Veterans Field in Laredo this weekend. Game No. 1 is scheduled to be played tonight at 7, game No. 2 is scheduled to be played tomorrow at 1 p.m. and game No. 3 (if necessary) is scheduled to start thirty minutes after the completion of game No. 2.

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