Heights/Neartown Roundup: Timely hitting lands Davis playoff berth
High school baseball coaches often bemoan their team's lack of timely hitting, but Davis head coach J.P. Cortez says that doesn't apply to the Panthers.
"We've been coming up with big hits when we need them," Cortez said. "When the pressure is on, our players produce."
Against Austin, it was junior J.J. Merla who delivered the knockout punch, unleashing a walk-off double in the seventh inning to give Davis a 4-3 victory.
"There's no better feeling than winning in your last at bat," Cortez said.
The win left Davis at 9-10-2 overall and 7-3 in District 21-4A. The Panthers trailed Reagan by a game for second place in the league standings with two games remaining. Davis will close the regular season against the Bulldogs at 4:30 p.m. Friday, April 29, at Delmar Sports Complex.
"We're already in the playoffs, but we'd rather get in as the No. 2 seed," Cortez said.
Davis' road to the postseason has been made possible by an explosive offense.
Senior catcher Alfonso DeLaGarza has emerged as one of the Panthers' top hitters. He owns a .436 average with two homers and 12 RBI.
"Alfonso has been the biggest surprise," Cortez said. "Alfonso wasn't a very good hitter last season, but he worked hard over the summer to get some of the kinks out of his swing. It's definitely paid off."
Junior shortstop Steven Sotelo is right behind DeLaGarza (.390). Sotelo also is Davis' No. 1 pitcher, scattering four hits and striking out seven batters against Austin.
"Steven is having a solid season, both offensively and defensively," Cortez said.
Sophomore third baseman Ricardo Ramirez (.350) also is a prolific hitter for the Panthers.
Rounding out the infield are seniors Daniel Flores and senior Ray Ramirez, respective starters at first and second base.
Senior Roberto Rodriguez is a part-time starter at shortstop, mostly when Sotelo is on the mound, while junior utility player Frank Montana has filled in at catcher, first base, third base and in the outfield, in addition to serving as the designated hitter.
Senior A.J. Merla is the center fielder, while cousin J.J. Merla, the hero against Austin, is a mainstay in left field. Senior Manny Vargas starts in right field, although senior Noel Cepeda and junior Sam Rodriguez have earned playing time.
Cortez said Davis' pitching rotation is underrated, anchored by ace Sotelo. But the Panthers have depth, with Ricardo Ramirez, Roberto Ramirez and Montana have each started games.
"I feel really good about our pitching," Cortez said. "I think we're becoming a more complete team. Hopefully, that will help us in the playoffs."
Waltrip second at district meet
Winning the District 21-4A Track and Field Championships was the driving goal for Waltrip's girls this season.
For that reason, Waltrip head coach Courtney Jackson was mildly disappointed with the Rams' runner-up finish. Yates won the meet with 178 points, followed by Waltrip with 146, Davis with 106, Reagan with 90, Sharpstown with 27, Sterling with 24, Austin with 13 and Lee with nine.
"We were second last year and, honestly, we thought we could do better than that," Jackson said. "We firmly believed we had a shot at Yates."
Jackson pointed out two mishaps that derailed the Rams' championship hopes. Senior Minesha Matthews was disqualified in the 400-meter dash, while the Rams' 4x100 relay botched a hand-off in its race, slipping to sixth place.
"Minesha getting DQ'd in the 400 hurt. I'm still not exactly sure how that happened," Jackson said. "But the 4x100 relay was even worse. We should have medaled, but we dropped the baton. Those mistakes cost us 20-something points."
Yet, Jackson still had plenty of reasons to be satisfied with the effort.
Senior Christiana Rodriguez finally broke through, sweeping the hurdles races. Rodriguez won the 100 hurdles in 16.46 seconds. She later added the 300 hurdles (48.36), with junior Kalyn Mayer (52.57) and sophomore Lanahja Porter (55.96) coming in second and fourth.
"The last two years, Christiana lost to some outstanding hurdlers from Sharpstown and Westbury, so it was terrific to see her finally win," Jackson said. "She's trained so hard and she deserved it."
Mayer and Porter, though, were pleasant surprises in the 300 hurdles. Mayer, in particular, was competing in the hurdles for the first time ever.
"We were just hoping to get a few points, but Kalyn and Lanahja really came through," Jackson said.
While Waltrip was shut out in the sprints, senior Krishanda Harrold almost won a medal in the 400, placing fourth (1:08.41).
The Rams excelled in the distance events, with junior Kimberly Santos taking third in the 800 (2:40.28) and junior Victoria Arcos earning third-place finishes in the 1,600 (6:21.98) and 3,200 (14:53.38).
Also adding to the tally were juniors Renechia Washington and Delina Gonzales, who each added to Waltrip's final tally.
The Rams' 4x400 relay of Matthews, junior Brittany Green, Porter and Harrold came in third (4:35.13), behind Yates (4:14.80) and Reagan (4:20.57). Waltrip's 4x200 relay of senior Raisa Blanchard, freshman Davonia Carter, Mayer and Green was fourth (1:53.73), just missing a trip to regionals. Green was subbing for freshman Jasmine Perez.
Waltrip had success in the field events, with Matthews claiming the triple jump with an effort of 30 feet, 4½ inches. She was third in the long jump (16-0). Other medalists were Blanchard, second in the high jump (4-4), and Harrold, second in the shot put (30-6).
Next up for the Rams is the Class 4A-Region III meet on Monday and Tuesday, May 2-3, at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.
Lamar netters excel
Bellaire's girls and Westside's boys won their respective division at the District 20-5A Tennis Tournament at Lee LeClear Tennis Center.
But Lamar was well-represented, grabbing spots at the Class 5A-Region III Tennis Tournament held recently in Deer Park.
Freshman phenom Anjali Singal won the girls singles division to qualify for regionals. Meanwhile, the duo of junior Andrea Guerra and freshman Emily Chen joined forces to claim the girls doubles crown.
On the boys' side, juniors Ray Clarage and David Henley were runner-up in boys doubles. Sophomore C.W. Abell finished third in boys singles for the Redskins.
St. Thomas wins state
St. Thomas claimed the Texas High School Rugby Conference State Tournament held at Strake Jesuit.
The Eagles crushed the host Crusaders 56-7 in the semifinals before edging defending state champion Dallas Jesuit 7-6 in the finals.
St. Thomas qualified for Western Regionals on Saturday, April 30, and Sunday, May 1, in Austin.