Blanco Panthers sweep Mustangs in Bi-District battle

Mustang Alex Valdez looks to bunt during a recent game. Check out more photos in our online gallery!

For a second straight season, the Natalia Mustangs saw their playoff run come to an end in the Bi-District round of the playoffs to the hands of the Blanco Panthers. The Mustangs marked their 5th straight trip to the playoffs, but the blue and gold pride of Blanco County swept Natalia in two straight games and is advancing to battle state ranked Hallettsville in the Area Round this week.
“Going into the playoffs, we knew that we would have a very tough challenge ahead of us,” Coach Philip Martinez said. “Blanco is a very solid team with their district being one of the more competitive in the state. We struggled offensively to get in a rhythm and were unable to keep their pitchers off balance.”
The Blanco Panthers simply featured too much talent on the mound and at the plate and that proved to be the difference Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.
Friday evening, the Mustangs opened the best of three series versus Blanco at Kennedy High School. The Panthers dominated this game, as Tyler LaRue paced the Panthers defensively from the mound scattering four Natalia hits around and accounting for seven strike-outs.
Offensively, Blanco belted out 10 hits and used four Natalia errors to their advantage en route to a 10-0 run-rule victory.
“They put the ball in play a lot and we didn’t make the plays that were needed,” Martinez said.
Rey Garza pitched 4.2 innings, allowed ten hits, walked two, struck out one and allowed four runs, four of which were earned. Isaiah Gomez pitched the final 0.1 innings of the game.
At Bat: Garza 0-2, Gabe Figueroa 0-2, Manuel Saldana 0-2, Jeramiah Castro 0-2, AJ Felker 1-2, Gomez 2-2, Javier Hernandez 0-2, Nathan Vasquez 0-2 and Alex Valdez 1-2. Defensive Put-Outs: Saldana 3, Castro 3, Gomez 3, Dustin Richardson 3, Figueroa 1, Hernandez 1, Valdez 1.
In game two Saturday at midday, the Natalia Mustangs found more success at the plate which allowed them to compete much better with the Panthers. When it was all said and done, the Mustangs actually matched the Panthers step for step with ten hits each, the difference was a huge second inning for Blanco where they were able to string more hits in a row together.
The Mustangs were forced to use three pitchers on the mound in game two. Gabe Figueroa pitched 1.2, Jeramiah Castro 3.1 and Antonio Trevino 1.0 innings.
After watching a scoreless opening inning, the Panthers struck big in the second. They used two walks, two hit batters, two singles and a crucial error to score seven big runs to take a lead the gold and blue never gave up.
The Mustangs were able to respond with a pair of runs in the top of the 3rd inning. Natalia used a two out rally to score the runs courtesy of a Castro hit by a pitch, a single by Garza and a triple by Nathan Vasquez.
Only two additional runs would be scored in this contest as Blanco scored one in the bottom of the 5th thanks to a hit batter and a pair of singles.
Natalia’s final run came in the 7th, as Garza was hit by a pitch and scored thanks to a single by Vasquez and a pair of passed balls.
The Stangs stranded a total of ten runners on base during the contest as Blanco stranded thirteen runners on base. As you can see, plenty of runs were left on the bases, but it was the Panthers who picked up the 8-3 win ending Natalia’s season.
At Bat: Garza 2-3-2runs scored, Figueroa 2-3, Saldana 1-5, Castro 0-2-1run scored, Felker 1-4, Gomez 1-3, Hernandez 0-2, Trevino 0-1, Vasquez 2-4-2RBIs and Valdez 1-2. Defensive Put-Outs: Richardson 6, Valdez 4, Vasquez 2, Trevino 2, Figueroa 2, Saldana 1, Garza 1.
Natalia will lose eight seniors
The Natalia Mustangs finished their season 12-10-1 and were the 5th team in a row to advance to the playoffs.
Natalia will say good-bye to the following seniors: Rey Garza, Nathan Vasquez, Alex Valdez, Alejandro Sanchez, Gabe Figueroa and Javier Hernandez.
“A few of these seniors have played on varsity since their freshman season and they have been a good group of young men,” Martinez said. “They have represented us well through all-district selections throughout the years and I am proud of how hard they have worked.”
According to Martinez, with the large number of seniors graduating, they will be young next season, but he is excited about the challenge.
By Eric Smith
Staff Writer