In a tight collision between two excellent softball teams, the denouement generally turns on one or two key sequences, the eventual winner proving equal to the task of making the clutch plays and surviving the occasional hiccup.

This is what Vela did at North Tuesday on a chilly evening to begin the District 31-6A campaign, as the Lady SaberCats forged a 4-0 victory on a handful of steady moments in the crucial junctures. By the time junior banger Taylor Chavez slammed a two-run single in the seventh for the final two Vela tallies, Coach Jon Maples’ club had done what it set out to do: prove it belonged in the title conversation by beating a city rival, something that has eluded the program in past seasons.

Senior hurler Monie Reyes twirled a four-hit shutout, catcher Darissa Buenrostro knocked two hits and was sharp afield, and every time the Lady Sabes ran into an obstacle, they took a deep breath, executed, and came out OK.

In the first inning, Vela dropped an infield pop and survived a scare when freshman infielder Annabel Segoviano flied deep to center to end the inning. A frame later Reyes rocked three straight strikeouts after being reached for a leadoff single. In the third, Buenrostro fielded a foul bunt in the air and pegged a runner who had strayed too far off first base, for a big double play that squelched a North surge.

To end the fifth, second sacker Kameryn Casares wheeled left and snared a dying quail behind first base, this with a runner from second bearing down on home plate. Late in the night, smooth and strong-armed right fielder Gaby Villarreal ranged over to snag a liner, and it was like that on defense for Vela: trusty plays at the right time.

“Our motto is this: play the next play,” said Maples, explaining how his girls were able to stay composed and finish the historic triumph. “They know we aren’t going to yell at them or bench them after a mistake, they just forget about it and make the next play.”

Vela improved to 18-2 with the W, and showed that preseason results over both North and EHS were not flukes.

“We have a great vibe on this team, no ‘I’ or ‘my stats.’ Just a good group who plays hard and has each other’s back,” Maples explained. “They have confidence in themselves and each other, and really, this team wants what the great ones like Weslaco and EHS, North have won, and that’s the gold ball for winning district.”

The Lady Sabes got off to a nice start toward that goal – heading into Friday’s home affair with the Lady Bobcats – and had just enough offense Tuesday against North junior Nat Rodriguez to get over. They gained momentum after the bang-bang twin-killing in the third, plating the first run of the night in the fourth when Villarreal drilled a double to lead off and scored on an infield error by the Lady Coogs. Buenrostro smacked an opposite field solo homer in the sixth for a 2-0 lead, followed by the clinching base hit off the stick of Chavez.

“She has done very well, ‘Doritos’ learned a lot from Sara Lopez, a former Vela catcher,” said Maples of his tough backstop. “Her defense was big tonight, we seemed to feed off that, and some other plays on D. North has a great team, well-coached, and we knew that it was going to be tough over here. We respect that team, all teams really and that’s the Vela Way, we give every opponent the ultimate respect, nothing negative.”

For North, the game was a series of close calls, including at the beginning when the umpires ruled that specially crafted gold eye glitter acting as eyeblack was illegal, and had to be removed.

The Lady Coogs got the lead runner aboard in each of the first three at-bats without scratching. Vela’s strategy of intentionally walking slugging junior catcher Hope Rodriguez paid off, although Segoviano got good wood on fly-outs after IBBs in the first and third. Garnering a total of four hits off Reyes, the Lady Coogs never strung together enough action to score, as a single by Lori Beth Chormicle in the sixth and a hit in the seventh did little damage. Buenrostro located a tricky foul pop with a sharp glove snap in that last frame.

“We have been playing well all year,” Maples noted. “I mean even when we lost to Los Fresnos the other day, we had tied it up and were about to win before the time limit kicked in and we had to revert to the last inning, when we were behind. We’ve faced all kinds of situations so far, being down a few runs, but the girls never panic, they hang tough and stay together.”