EDINBURG — The hype was through the roof for the start of the Class 5A Region IV final between Sharyland High and Sharyland Pioneer. The rival schools lived up to it in Game 1 of their best-of-three series as the Diamondbacks won a 7-6 nail-biter in front of 5,277 fans at UTRGV Baseball Stadium.
The Diamondbacks struck first in the matchup of the snakes and seemed in control for most of the game, holding onto a 7-3 lead entering the bottom of the seventh inning. But with their backs against the wall, the Rattlers responded.
Sharyland High scored three runs with two outs during its last at-bat on RBIs from Diego Peña and Randy Garcia. The Rattlers had potential game-tying and game-winning runs on second and third, but a hard hit grounder up the middle was snatched by Pioneer shortstop Evan Maldonado, who threw to first for the final out, securing the win. All three games, including two regular-season matchups, between Pioneer and Sharyland High have been decided by one run.
“Isn’t that how they’ve all been?” Sharyland Pioneer coach Casey Smith said. “You know on that side they’re not going to quit. They’re going to continue to play baseball. They’ve got some tough-minded kids the same way we do. They’re here for a reason and so are we. It was pretty good baseball tonight.”
While the Diamondbacks and Rattlers combined for 21 hits Thursday, they also combined for nine errors. Sharyland High coach Barton Bickerton said if things broke a little differently, the Rattlers could have been celebrating instead.
“We gave them four runs on four errors in the last two innings, so that’s the difference in the ball game. They did a lot of things right, but we also handed them tons of runs,” Bickerton said.
“The way we fought back at the end, we got to start tomorrow the same way. They did show a lot of fight at the end to have a chance to win the ball game. If that ball gets up the middle, the difference is we’re celebrating right now.”
Sharyland Pioneer started the scoring during the top of the second inning on an RBI single by Ray Hernandez to give the Diamondbacks a 1-0 lead. Hernandez said the atmosphere from the crowd was great, but he zoned in to give his team the first run of the series.
“That was crazy. When I got up there I blocked everything out because I have to do my job. It felt good getting off to a good start, knowing that made our guys get up,” Hernandez said.
But the Rattlers were quick to answer back as a sacrifice fly from Saul Soto knotted the game at 1-1.
That’s when Maldonado, the University of Houston commit, delivered the hit of the game. Sharyland High’s Andy Lozano delivered a pitch over the plate and the junior shortstop crushed it, sending it over the left-field fence for his second home run of the season. The homer came after committing a fielding error during the prior frame.
“I just had to make up for my errors in the field and come through for my team,” Maldonado said. “It was tied and I was like ‘we can’t lose to our rivals, we got to get back on track.’”
Hernandez and Maldonado finished with one RBI a piece on 1-for-3 hitting, while senior Jacob Rosales (9-4) picked up the win on the mound for the Diamondbacks. He struck out six and allowed three earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. Johnny Lugo came in to close the game in the bottom of the seventh to earn his second save of the season.
Sharyland High second baseman Randy Garcia led the Rattlers with a 2 for 4 day, finishing with two RBIs. Starting pitcher Andy Lozano lasted six innings and finished with six strikeouts and two earned runs.
Sharyland Pioneer now leads the series 1-0 with Game 2 scheduled for 7 tonight back at UTRGV Baseball Stadium.
Even with the 1-0 advantage, Maldonado knows there’s no quit in the Rattlers dugout so the Diamondbacks have to be on their game again in Game 2.
“We have to step on their throats and not get comfortable so quick because this is a team that’ll come back and not give up, so we have to keep up the scoring,” he said.