Lobos, Rattlers ready for round three

Sharyland High's Jose Garcia (1) raises his hand as he looks at the umpire after sliding into second against La Joya Palmview in a 31-5A match up at La Joya Palmview High School on Thursday, Mar. 14, 2019, in La Joya. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

MISSION — After splitting their season series 1-1 in District 31-5A, the La Joya Palmview Lobos and Sharyland High Rattlers are gearing up for a three-game series this weekend with a berth to the Region IV-5A semifinals on the line. Both teams have improved since their first meetings in mid-March, but only one will keep their season alive.

ROAD TO ROUND 3

For the second straight week, La Joya Palmview (21-11, 9-5) shocked the Texas high school baseball world.

The Lobos upended Class 5A’s No. 6-ranked team, by the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association, in Corpus Christi Calallen in a one-game playoff, 3-2 in eight innings, sending another district champion home for the year, this time in walkoff fashion.

“We had already played them once (in a tournament) and lost 3-1,” Palmview coach Manuel Garcia said. “I told our guys they were very beatable if we play Lobo baseball. You just have to have the confidence and be positive about doing things right and focus yourself throughout the week, and that’s what they did. They focused and they wanted to go prove to everybody that we do belong here.”

Senior Albino Villareal’s base hit in the bottom of the eighth scored Paulo Landeros from third and sent the Lobos back into the third round for the first time since 2016, after the team missed out on the postseason entirely last season. Villareal credited the team coming together and the addition of Palmview’s ace Jonathan Martinez.

“I think the thing that changed from last year is we’re more focused, more dedicated and practice harder. We worked really hard in the offseason, and with Jonathan coming from La Joya, everybody just came together and has been playing their parts in this turnaround,” Villarreal said.

Martinez and senior Erbey Polanco combined to shut down the Wildcats, allowing no earned runs with Polanco working his way out of three bases-loaded situations late in the game against Calallen.

“I was just trying to hit my spots and let my defense work. They’ve been incredible, honestly. Every day we put in the work to minimize errors, doing everything they can to keep opponents from scoring,” Polanco said.

As for Sharyland High, it was the only 31-5A team to sweep its three-game series by knocking off Corpus Christi King in two, with one of those wins coming on Cabaniss Field, a place the Rattlers (30-4, 12-2) had never won.

That win was a part of 31-5A’s big weekend as all four teams advanced to the third round by eliminating Corpus Christi area teams.

“I don’t think people realize how big of a weekend it really was for the whole Valley. I rate it up there with when Harlingen South went to state with us sweeping the Corpus teams out. So that was a big one,” Sharyland High coach Barton Bickerton said.

The Rattlers, ranked No. 9, took Game 1, 6-3, and shut out King 2-0 in Game 2 to earn the sweep. Pitchers Andy Lozano and Ivan Alvarez both came through with complete-game performances for Sharyland as they allowed just one earned run.

“That King team was really tough, but going into those games we were ready and we were prepared. They really struggled hitting the ball away. We had a game plan and we followed it and it worked,” Lozano said.

MATCHUPS

The first time the Rattlers and Lobos met, Palmview walked away with a 6-4 win. Martinez was on the mound for that one, but the Rattlers tagged him for six hits and three earned runs. Polanco had Palmview’s best day at the plate as he drove in two runs to lead the Lobos to the Game 1 win. In Game 2, however, Sharyland High bounced back to even the season series with an 8-1 win led by a complete game and three RBI outing from Lozano.

“The first game we hit their pitcher really well,” Sharyland senior right fielder Chase Gerlach said. “Going into this first game, we’re just really looking to make those routine plays and come through big with our bats.”

Palmview regards Sharyland High as one of the best teams it has faced all season, but it has confidence in the guys inside the Lobos dugout to get the job done.

“We just need to come out playing as hard as we can,” Martinez said. “Defense needs to be on point, hitting. We need to come through with the sticks. It’s going to be a good series.”

With Sharyland Pioneer and Rio Grande City facing off on the other side of the Region IV bracket, two 31-5A teams are guaranteed a spot in the fourth round. The only question is who will prevail.

“It’s going to be good competition, it’s going to be a battle,” Bickerton said. “There’s going to be two more 5A teams that are going to advance. This is the best chance we’ve had in a long time to see somebody go to state, we’re just hoping it’s us.”

Game 1 of the three-game series is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Sharyland High School, with Game 2 moving over to La Joya Palmview at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Game 3, if necessary, will flip back to the Rattlers’ home field at 3 p.m. Saturday.