EDINBURG — Sharyland Pioneer set a list of goals at the beginning of the season. The last one on the list? Reach Round Rock, the location of the UIL baseball state tournament, 331 miles away from Sharyland Pioneer High School.
All year, Diamondbacks players used the hashtag #RR331 on Twitter. Now, Sharyland Pioneer is going to Round Rock after defeating Sharyland High 11-1 in five innings on Friday in Game 2 of the Region IV-5A championship, punching its ticket to next week’s UIL state tournament.
“From the beginning, before we even started the season, we always talked about it, always visualizing how we’re going to get there,” Pioneer senior Johnny Lugo said. “Every time you go to bed, you always have to dream about it, you always have to think about it, and now it finally came true. It’s a special feeling.”
The Diamondbacks realize their dream of reaching Round Rock by dominating the Rattlers in five innings, sweeping the best-of-three series. After a one-run thriller and near-Rattlers comeback in Game 1, Sharyland Pioneer put its foot on the gas, scoring in all four of its innings at the plate. The Diamondbacks hung six runs with two outs on the Rattlers during the bottom of the fourth to push the lead to 10 and out of reach.
Before the game, Pioneer senior shortstop Jacob Rosales, who finished 1 for 3 with two RBIs, told his team‘s pitching coach, Austin Bickerton, he had a feeling they could pull off a dominating performance.
“I told him, ‘Why mess around? Let’s just run with this. I know we can.’ We were relaxed and having fun, and when we’re doing that, we’re deadly,” Rosales said.
The Diamondbacks were at their deadliest during the bottom of the fourth as Lugo, Angel Nuñez, Trey Gonzalez and Ray Hernandez all came through with RBIs.
Pioneer coach Casey Smith said that’s what he expected from his group.
“We talked about not wanting to go to a Game 3, keeping the hammer down from pitch one and our kids did a great job of doing that and being in attack mode,” Smith said.
Lugo, a UTRGV commit, led the Diamondbacks, going 2 for 3 with three RBIs on his future home field.
Pioneer junior pitcher Evan Maldonado was on point. The University of Houston commit held Sharyland High to just four hits and no earned runs in five innings.
“It was crazy,” Maldonado said of the atmosphere after the Game 2 win. “We’re going to state and all this hard work paid off.”
The Diamondbacks — or “the Valley boys,” as they like to call themselves — become the first RGV baseball team to qualify for the state tournament since Harlingen South in 2007.
“At first, it was just a dream. Everyone doubted us, saying we could never get there. We’re just a Valley team. We’re just going to keep proving people wrong,” Pioneer senior Pedro Tovias said.
As for the Rattlers, their historic season comes to an end in the fifth round, tallying a 34-8 record, a run that included a District 31-5A championship and ended as Region IV-5A final qualifiers for the second time in program history. Sharyland High coach Barton Bickerton was able to take some solace in losing to the Diamondbacks, who are coached by his son and a former assistant in Smith.
“If we’re going to get beat, we definitely want to get beat by them. It still stings and everything else, but they dominated us today,” Bickerton said.
Sharyland Pioneer will play in the state tournament, beginning Thursday in Round Rock.
“We put in so much work to get here and we’re finally going to state, and we ain’t done yet,” Maldonado said.
Game and ticket information will be determined at a later date.