PHARR — Deadlocked in a one-run tie halfway through the game, La Joya High’s Ayleene Salinas needed to help her squad recapture the momentum.

Salinas slapped a hard-hit ground ball up the middle, but she was hit in the shoulder by the ball as she tapped the bag. The misthrow moved Salinas to second base and sparked a huge one-out rally in the top of the fourth.

The Coyotes smacked six straight hits in the inning to plate three runs to take the lead for good, as La Joya High topped Sharyland High 5-2 in the opening game of the PSJA ISD Tournament, thanks to aggressive base running, timely hitting and situational defense Thursday at PSJA Southwest High School.

“We’re coming off a loss on Tuesday night, so it feels good to get back on a winning track,” La Joya High head coach Carlos Rodriguez said. “We played well. We got offense when we needed to and Jaretzy (Rodriguez) controlled the corners and had great location and good defense behind her.”

Both teams were able to get on base early and often in the contest, but were initially unable to push any runs across home plate.

The Coyotes and Rattlers each landed runners on base in both halves of the first four innings, but neither side scored until the third.

La Joya put the first run of the game on the scoreboard after Stefanie Solis tagged and scored on Jessica Reyna’s sacrifice fly to left field. Sharyland answered right back with a sacrifice fly of its own to plate a run after Sofia Islas started the bottom of the inning with a leadoff double down the left field foul line.

Then the Coyotes’ offense opened the floodgates with their seven-hit, three-run rally during the top of the fourth.

“We needed it,” Rodriguez said. “We had hit the ball well. We had a couple of shots right at them and the ball wasn’t dropping for us. But we got a couple of hits that inning and kind of kept the momentum on our side. That carried over to the defensive side.”

That’s when the Coyotes’ defense and starting pitcher Jaretzy Rodriguez took control of the contest.

The Rattlers continued to put runners on base, but scored only once more in the bottom of the fifth on a Star Fonseca RBI single to right field.

Rodriguez, however, controlled the lower half of the strike zone and kept Sharyland’s hitters off balance with a steady dose of breaking balls. She finished with one walk and three strikeouts in a complete seven-inning effort.

“It was big,” Rodriguez said. “We were able to throw some off-speed stuff and it led to some nice and easy outs.”

But the real key to the Coyotes’ victory was their presence on the base paths.

As a group, La Joya swiped five bases in the game on seven attempts to almost constantly put runners in scoring position. Two steals led to immediate runs for La Joya.

“It hasn’t been (a part of our identity) before, but today we tried to be a little more aggressive,” Rodriguez said. “We got thrown out a couple of times, but that’s alright. We did come in with a game plan of trying to be more aggressive today.”

The Coyotes improved to 7-7 on year with the win and have continued to ramp up their level of play each tournament weekend. They’ll take on Rio Grande City at noon at PSJA North and Zapata at 4 p.m. at PSJA Memorial, while the Rattlers will face McAllen Memorial at noon at PSJA Memorial and Mission High at 4 p.m. at PSJA Southwest on Day 2 of the PSJA ISD Tournament.

“We keep improving. There are still a couple of hiccups we need to work through,” Rodriguez said. “If you look at the overall picture, though, we have definitely improved from Day 1 to now. Hopefully we can have a little more improvement before district.”

SHARYLAND’S CRUZ CAPTURES 400th CAREER WIN

In the team’s second game of the day at the PSJA ISD Tournament, Sharyland High bounced back with a resounding 7-3 victory over the Donna High Bravettes.

The result marks a significant milestone for Rattlers head coach Paul Cruz, who earned his 400th career win at Sharyland High.

The Sharyland High Rattlers celebrate coach Paul Cruz’s 400th career victory, a 7-3 win over Donna High, on Day 1 of the PSJA ISD Softball Tournament on Thursday afternoon at PSJA Southwest. (Courtesy photo | Sharyland ISD)

The victory puts Cruz in elite company as one of about three dozen Texas high school coaches to ever reach 400 or more wins and only the third Rio Grande Valley coach to do so after Edinburg North’s Richard Tressler and Elias Martinez, who has coached at Harlingen South and San Benito.

“I want to thank the Sharyland ISD family for giving me a chance. Thanks to my current athletic director Richard Thompson, athletic coordinator Ron Adame and principal Lori Ann Garza. I also want to thank my fellow coaches Iris Iglesias, Carlos Rodriguez and Coach Julie Smith,” Cruz said. It’s been a great 24 years and I feel very positive about our team this year. Additionally, behind every coach is a supportive spouse. My wife Nicole has logged more hours on softball bleachers than time reading, and she is a librarian so she reads a lot. All of my former players and parents mean the world to me as well. Now I have been coaching the daughters of players.”

Alyssa Silva picked up the win for the Rattlers inside the circle, while Tristen Maddox’s grand-slam home run in the bottom of the fourth broke a three-run tie to give Sharyland the lead for good.