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Thursday, September 17, 1998

Eagles try to add to Panthers' painful start

Staff Writer
PECOS, Sept. 17 -- The last time the Pecos Eagles met the
Fort Stockton Panthers, to close out the 1997 football
season, they were beaten, battered and embarrassed by the
Panthers, 49-6.

Ten months and one district change later, things are
looking a lot better for the Eagles. They're favored to win
their new District 2-4A title and end a 23-year playoff
drought, while as of now, it's the Panthers who have been
battered and beaten, and -- coming into Pecos Friday night
-- desperate for a victory.

Fort Stockton was picked to finish third in District 5-4A
end their own 20-year playoff drought this season, but
thanks in part to a series of injuries suffered since their
opening scrimmage, the Panthers come into Pecos off 34-14
and 42-7 home losses to Crane and El Paso Riverside. And
with Monahans and Levelland up before their district opener
against Big Spring, coach Phillip Lopez' team needs a
victory against Pecos to start to turn things around.

"We've lost (Chase) Weist, (Jay) Salazar, (Justin) St.
Clair, (Gabriel Armendariz), Jesse Madrid and Jeffrey
Gonzales," said Lopez. "Of that group, the first four were
starters for us, and a couple of them were two-way players.

"Weist was the heart and soul of our defense. We've always
had injuries. just two years ago, we lost (Jacob) Vasquez
and (Scott) Fish, so there's always been two or three hurt,
but this year we've had 12 kids lost already," Lopez said.

"They're battling injuries, but so are we," said Eagles'
coach Dan Swaim. "We're missing Robert Gonzales, Alonzo
Valencia, Jeffrey Martinez and Orlando Orona." He said he
hopes to get all but Martinez back sometime within the next
several weeks.

The Eagles were without those four starters a week ago
against Alpine, but managed to break open a 7-0 game in the
fourth quarter with 16 straight points for a 23-8 victory.
The win snapped a six game losing streak for Pecos, dating
back to their final pre-district game of a year ago.

Vasquez is already the answer to a great trivia question --
who won the District 4-4A rushing title in Shaud Williams'
junior year. And he did it with a 281-yard performance
against Pecos, part of a 458-yard night on offense for Fort

The running game has been the major difference so far this
season, as the Panthers have gained just 120 yards in their
first two games -- 67 less than Vasquez averaged per game
last year.

Lopez said an injury to Vasquez' replacement, Matt Allen,
was to blame for some of that dropoff.

"We're just starting to get Matt Allen back, but he's still
not fully there yet," Lopez said of the running back, who
sprained his ankle in Fort Stockton's scrimmage win over Del
Rio. "He played about four or five plays against Crane and
about 12-15 against Riverside. Friday, we're hoping to get
him at least 20 snaps."

"Allen's real fast and a good runner," said Swaim. "If he
gets into the open, he's going to be gone."

Lopez has been a little disappointed in his line, though
injuries have hurt there as well. "We've got four new
linemen, and (Aaron) Hernandez is the only one back that has
got a lot of experience, but he's yet to stand out."

The Panthers' front six averages over 260 pounds, and spent
much of the off-season in powerlifitng competition. But two,
tackle Scott Caldwell and tight end Luke Groth, have had to
play on defense as well due to the injuries. "By the time
they get to the second half, they're just spent. We did get
an offensive lineman back this week (Alex Almedava), so that
will help."

Defensively, both Crane and Riverside hurt Fort Stockton
both with the run and pass. Both ran for about 200 yards,
and El Paso also threw for 200, while Crane gained over 130
yards through the air.

The Eagles, meanwhile, pretty much stuck to the ground in
the second half of last week's game. Passes set up their
first score, as well as their second touchdown against
Denver City two weeks ago, but against the Bucks, all 203
yards in the second half were on the ground, with Lucio
Florez finishing with 112 yards rushing and Mark Abila with

Even with Weist out, Swaim said Fort Stockton's other
linebacker, Willie Woodbury "is the real deal. He's probably
their best defensive player, from what I've seen."

Swaim said the Eagles didn't get to see the video of last
week's game against Riverside, in which the Rangers jumped
out to a 34-0 halftime lead, but against Crane, "Stockton
turned the ball over a couple of times. Crane got up on them
quick, and they just couldn't come back."

Lopez said despite the two losses, his team's attitude,
"has still been good. But several of them were not part of
last year's team, and they still don't know how to react."

For Pecos' Friday's game also will be a good gauge of where
they stand, with District 2-4A play three weeks off. The
Eagles will face Crane next week, and could potentially face
Riverside in the bi-district round of the Class 4A playoffs
come November.

"We've had good workouts so far this week, and the kids are
ready to strap it on Friday night," Swaim said.

Sosa slams back into tie with McGwire

SAN DIEGO, Sept. 17 (AP) -- Slammin' Sammy evened the home
run race again, fittingly, with a grand slam.

With a mighty swing at a dramatic moment, Sammy Sosa hit
his 63rd homer to a place balls rarely go at Qualcomm
Stadium, the second deck in left field. Just like that,
after struggling for two games, Sosa pulled back into a tie
with Mark McGwire in the greatest home run derby ever.

``It was something exciting, I have to say, especially with
the game on the line,'' Sosa said after driving in all his
team's runs in the Chicago Cubs' 6-3 win over the San Diego
Padres on Wednesday night. ``I never thought I would get No.
63 with the bases loaded.''

Or with two outs and the scored tied 2-2. In that
situation, he said, he didn't want to strike out. Instead,
he continued to make history.

With cameras flashing from all around the stadium and most
of the crowd of 49,891 on its feet, Sosa drove a 93 mph
fastball from Brian Boehringer an estimated 434 feet.

The crowd went wild when Sosa's ball settled inside the
foul pole, setting off a mad scramble for the souvenir, and
Sosa was summoned back onto the field for a curtain call.
Mark Grace stepped out of the batter's box and Boehringer
stepped off the mound during the ovation.

The cheering continued after the inning ended, and Sosa
doffed his cap to the crowd when he went to right field.

``I'm back. I have a lot of confidence in myself. I wanted
to be patient,'' Sosa said.

``People are excited about the home run race, and
rightfully so,'' winning pitcher Terry Mulholland said.
``There's no telling if they'll ever see it again.''

Sosa and McGwire, tied for the most home runs in a season,
each have nine games left. Sosa said he didn't care who wins
the thrilling race for the single-season homer record.

``I got to the point that everybody wanted me to go, and
whatever happens from now on is a gift. Now I want to go to
the playoffs.''

Sosa, who hit a two-run, bases-loaded double in the
seventh, helped the Cubs hold their half-game lead over New
York in the NL wild-card race.

``Right now, I feel great,'' he said. ``The game tonight
was unbelievable.''

Boehringer wasn't worried about his place in history.

``Nobody's going to remember it when he hits 69,'' the
right-hander said.

``I tried to go inside, but I left it ...,'' said
Boehringer, who then asked reporters if they saw where the
pitch was. ``It went off the bat too quick,'' Boehringer

Only 22 home runs have been hit into the second deck in 30
seasons, including seven this year -- yes, McGwire hit one
of them. The St. Louis slugger parked his 43rd homer 458
feet from home plate on July 20, also off Boehringer.

Fabian Perez Mercado, 32, of Tijuana, Mexico, ended up with
the ball. He was at the game with his pregnant wife and two
children. He is expected to present the ball to Sosa before
this afternoon's game, the Padres said.

Sosa tied McGwire at 62 Sunday when he connected twice in a
stunning performance at Wrigley Field. That gave him four
homers in three days.

McGwire went back ahead when he hit his 63rd when he
pinch-hit for the Cardinals in ninth inning of the first
game of a doubleheader Tuesday night.

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324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
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