Sharyland Pioneer punches ticket to Elite 8

Sharyland Pioneer's Johnny Lugo (3) connects with the ball during a home run hit in the third inning against Rio Grande City in a regional quarter finals playoff series game 3 at Mission High School on Leo Najo Field on Saturday, May 18, 2019, in Mission. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

LAREDO — Sharyland Pioneer faced its third Game 3 situation of the postseason in the Class 5A regional semifinal against Boerne-Champion on Saturday.

And for the third straight time, the Diamondbacks are moving onto the next round.

The Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks shut out the No. 2 team in 5A, according to the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association, 11-0 to win Game 3 at Uni-Trade Stadium in Laredo. It’s the second time the Diamondbacks have taken down a top two squad after eliminating Corpus Christi Veterans in the area round.

“Something we preach is that ranking is just a number,” said Sharyland Pioneer senior Jacob Rosales. “If you’re really that good, you don’t need a ranking to classify how good you are. The way we took it is they’re just another team that we’re going to play and we’re going to try to play harder than them, and we ended up coming out on top.”

The Diamondbacks have shown no fear all season long, no matter who the opponent across the field was, and they weren’t starting against Boerne-Champion.

“I think anytime you play, you go into the arena of battle, you always can lose. But a lot of times, the fear of losing gets in the way of somebody being successful. And that’s one thing our guys are not afraid to do — they’re not afraid to lose,” Sharyland Pioneer coach Casey Smith said. “They’re not afraid to go out there and play their best. They’re not afraid of anybody on the other side. And that’s a hell of a characteristic to have.”

After losing Game 2, 8-6 in nine innings, the Diamondbacks answered back by shutting out the Chargers, a team that was averaging nearly 10 runs per game. Sharyland Pioneer also poured 11 runs on Boerne-Champion by scoring in five of the seven innings played.

Junior Evan Maldonado was responsible for three of those runs as he finished 2 for 3 with three RBIs, one walk and one run in Game 3. This came after he pitched four innings in Game 2 and allowed six runs. The University of Houston commit wasn’t phased, however. He just relaxed and locked in to help lead his team into the fifth round.

“I was honestly relaxed. I just put the ball in play and it worked out pretty well,” Maldonado said. “We won the first one, we worked so hard for this, we weren’t going to go out like this. We had to step it up and give it all we got and we did.”

One Diamondback who gave it his all in Game 3 was senior pitcher Johnny Lugo. Lugo got the start in all three of Sharyland Pioneer’s Game 3s this postseason and blanked the Chargers, making him 3-0 in this year’s playoffs and 11-2 as a starter on the season. He’s even earned the nickname “Ace” from his coaches and teammates.

“You just got to be confident and do what you do best,” Lugo said after a complete game, five-hit, four-strikeout performance. “Have faith in the man upstairs and I’ll be good. I knew we were going to do it. They talked a lot of trash but we kept fighting and fighting because we didn’t want to lose to that.”

Boerne-Champion forced the series into a decisive Game 3 by beating the Diamondbacks 8-6 in nine innings in Game 2.

The Chargers held a 6-4 lead on Pioneer in the bottom of the seventh of the middle game but Jacob Rosales blasted a two-run homer over the left field fence to tie it at 6 and send the game into extra innings. Two innings later, Boerne-Champion locked up Game 2 with two runs in the top of the ninth on a sac fly and throwing error.

But Sharyland Pioneer went back to a quote they’ve leaned on this postseason for motivation, “we ain’t done yet.” Now, the Diamondbacks are one of eight teams left standing in 5A baseball across the state of Texas.

“Any time you get to experience something like this with a group of kids and a group of coaches, it’s just special,” Smith said. “It’s a neat bond and it’s a bond that we’ll continue to have for a long time and hopefully we continue to move forward.”

Sharyland Pioneer will face city and district rival Sharyland High in the Class 5A Region IV Final next week with a spot in the state tournament on the line. It will be the first time an RGV baseball team has qualified for the final four since Harlingen South in 2007. Game details are to be determined.