La Joya locks up last playoff spot in District 30-6A

LA JOYA — Tuesday night’s meeting between La Joya High and Mission High might not have been a playoff game, but it had the feel of it from the opening pitch to the final out.

With one playoff spot up for grabs in District 30-6A between the two rivals, the Coyotes came through with a 6-1 win to clinch the fourth seed in district, putting an end to the Eagles’ season.

“It was like a playoff game: it was do-or-die. I’m just glad we got the win,” La Joya coach Mario Flores said.

La Joya (17-11, 9-5) wasted no time going to work, hanging three runs on the Eagles (12-15, 7-7) during the first inning. Hugo Cantu, Elias Morales and Jake Moreno each came through with run-scoring hits to give the Coyotes a 3-0 lead.

Freshman pitcher JC Gutierrez also came up big on the mound. He went 6 2/3 innings, while striking out nine batters, allowing no runs and yielding just two hits on the night.

“A lot of credit to our pitcher, JC Gutierrez, for a heck of a game. During the school day, he would come by and tell me he wanted the ball and he showed it tonight,” Flores said. “He didn’t want to get off the mound. I’m very proud of him.”

The freshman wanted the ball in his hand with the playoffs on the line, and he delivered.

“I was nervous at first, but I knew what I can do and I knew I could perform to the best of my abilities for my team. I just wanted to do it for all my seniors,” Gutierrez said. “I felt confident. I just had to be focused.”

With the postseason on the line, the intensity was evident from both teams, as well as the crowd in the stands. The game was delayed multiple times throughout as both coaches were sticking up for their team. Dugouts then nearly emptied after things got physical at second base.

Gutierrez said there was a sense of relief and excitement after the final out was secured, giving the Coyotes the chance to take the field once again in the postseason.

“The emotion is unexplainable. It’s a relief, an excitement and joy that we were able to win the ballgame for our players and coaches.”

The Coyotes scored once more on a passed ball during the fourth inning, before Salvador Lopez and Jose Gutierrez added insurance runs with RBIs to give La Joya a 6-0 lead.

Mission’s lone run came in the final inning on an errant throw to third base, which allowed Jacob Salinas to cross the plate, preventing the shutout.

Now, the focus of the Coyotes shifts to the first round of the playoffs with bi-district action set to begin next week.

“Our mindset is getting past the first round,” Flores said. “I know these kids, they’re something else. They’re very special and they have it in them.”