Diamondbacks, Rattlers to battle for spot in final four

Sharyland Pioneer's Jacob Rosales (5) attempts to stop a grounder near second base against Rio Grande City during Game 3 of a regional quarterfinals playoff series at Mission High School on Saturday, May 18, 2019, in Mission. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

MISSION — The journey to state tournament rides down Shary road for the Sharyland High Rattlers and Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks — two rivals from the same school district separated by six miles who find themselves in the Elite 8 where they’ll battle for a spot in the state tournament, a place no Rio Grande Valley team has been since Harlingen South in 2007.

“As long as I’ve been around, I don’t think there’s going to be anything close to this,” Sharyland High coach Barton Bickerton said. “We’ve had a lot of teams get close, we’ve had a few teams make the regional finals, but to have two and already guarantee a team at state is pretty amazing. I remember when Harlingen South beat us (in 2007), I remember how big of a deal it was for the Valley, and it still is to me. We’re going to see that again. From the same school district is just crazy.”

Sharyland Pioneer second-year coach Casey Smith, a former assistant of Bickerton’s at Sharyland High, said it’s a unique situation to be in, but he’s glad to be putting RGV baseball on the map.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s obviously neat for Sharyland ISD, it’s something special, but more importantly, it’s special for the Valley. It’s a stage for Rio Grande Valley baseball right now,” Smith said.

Players from each squad echoed their coaches sentiment.

“We’re pretty excited because I know it’s the first time it happens in Valley history and we’re just trying to do the best we can,” said Sharyland High junior outfielder Pepe Contreras.

While the moment is special for the RGV baseball, it’s something Smith saw coming.

The Diamondbacks coach called his shot of the All-Shary Class 5A Region IV final nearly two months ago following back-to-back games against Sharyland High in District 31-5A. The Diamondbacks protected their home field, winning 7-6 on a walk-off hit in extra innings by Pedro Tovias on March 26. The Rattlers did the same in front of their home crowd, scoring three runs in the bottom of the seventh for a 4-3 win on a walk-off RBI-single by Diego Peña on March 29.

After the Shary road rivals split their season series, Smith and Bickerton shook hands, but the Diamondbacks coach had something else to add.

“The amazing thing about coach Smith is he told me after our second game here when we came back and beat them, he said ‘I’ll see you in the regional finals’ and I was just laughing about it, and he said ‘no, I’m serious,” Bickerton said. “Then he texted me and said ‘I want you to keep this text. Take a picture of this text because we’re going to face each other in the regional finals.’

“It’s a strange thing because Austin (Bickerton’s son and Sharyland Pioneer assistant coach) on the bus said that when we were in that tight game (Game 3 against Kerrville Tivy on Saturday), that coach Smith said ‘don’t worry about it, they’re going to win, it’s already predetermined.’ It’s kind of been strange that it played out that way.”

Now that the situation has become a reality, Smith smiled and said there might be something bigger at play.

“It’s something myself and coach Bickerton have talked about for a while. There’s a higher power at work and I can tell you that I was feeling it and I knew it. There’s something else at work,” he said.

Now, the Diamondbacks and Rattlers will have three more games to break the tie and show who the superior Sharyland team is, with the winner advancing to next week’s final four in the Class 5A state semifinals.

Sharyland High and Sharyland Pioneer will meet in a best-of-three series with the first pitch slated for Thursday. With the hype surrounding this game, all three games will take place at UTRGV Baseball Stadium in Edinburg, which has a capacity of about 4,000.

Game 1 is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, with Game 2 set for 7 p.m. Friday. Game 3, if necessary, will take place Saturday at 2 p.m.