Edinburg Vela’s Jon Maples is The Monitor’s All-Area Softball Coach of the Year. 

EDINBURG — Edinburg Vela coach Jon Maples had a statement to make about his team during a preseason photo shoot at PSJA High. He was asked where he thought the SaberCats would stand at the end of the season.

“I believed we could go three or four rounds deep into the playoffs,” Maples recalled. “I knew the girls we had coming in. I believed we had the talent, which included one of the best Valley pitchers (Naomi Reyes) on our side.”

Reyes, the eventual All-Area Pitcher of the Year, was not exactly enthused with her coach making his prediction public.

“I thought he was crazy,” Reyes said. “I was looking at him like, ‘Coach, what are you saying?’”

The 2018 season eventually proved Maples’ sanity. The SaberCats finished the year with a program-record 32 wins, their first appearance in the regional semifinal round of the postseason and Maples’ first honor as All-Area Coach of the Year.

“We ended last year getting run-ruled in the first round of the playoffs by San Benito, and I knew we were better than that,” Maples said. “We laid out these expectations for the girls. We knew that they had been through a lot in three seasons, but we wanted to let them know that we believe in their talent and that they could get this done.”

The SaberCats won 18 games in 2017 but quickly put the Valley on notice at the beginning of 2018. Edinburg Vela advanced to the championship game of the Mission Fastpitch Festival before dropping the final to Weslaco High on Feb. 17, then won the La Joya tournament title over Los Fresnos on Feb. 24.

After beating Edinburg High during the Festival, Edinburg Vela couldn’t solve the Bobcats, who swept the SaberCats in district play. The district sweep ended Vela’s chances at a district title.

“Those losses to (EHS) helped us with our maturity,” Maples said. “We had opportunities to win. We knew we could beat this team. We just had to stay away from making mental mistakes. The great thing about our team is that we never got too high up after a win and never too low after a loss. Our routine never changed, and the kids were consistent throughout.”

Edinburg Vela exacted revenge on Weslaco High by taking two of three in the bi-district round of the playoffs. The SaberCats swept Laredo Alexander in the area round and then won a one-game playoff against Harlingen South to reach a Sweet 16 matchup versus San Antonio Warren.

Because San Benito lost its one-game playoff against New Braunfels Canyon in the fourth round on May 18, Vela was the last Valley club standing before being swept by Warren on May 19.

“We had a bunch of girls step up to get us that far,” Maples said. “Teams would try and take our best players out, but another girl would have a big hit. Our girls are tough. That’s why we made history.”