LA FERIA – To him, it’s all about trust, on multiple levels.
Alec de la Cruz, having hoisted the first Most Valuable Player trophy in his career Saturday, was discussing the latest Vela basketball season, as the Sabes seek to keep the momentum going after a historic 35-win season in 2015-16.
“We trust the coaches and we know what they are saying has been part of our success,” said the lanky 6-3 senior, who scored 23 points as the Sabes held off Los Fresnos for the title at the C.E. Vail Tourney Saturday. “And that goes for the guys who are somewhat new this year; they have to trust the process, the program, and continue to step up when the time comes.”
De la Cruz, the one-on-one machine who is nearly impossible to stop on the drive when he is feeling it, was part of a potent one-two punch in the final. Teammate Ryan Garza knocked in a career-high 34 against Los Fresnos, in a revenge game against the long and athletic Falcons.
“When we lost to them in San Antonio, that just wasn’t us,” de la Cruz explained. “We were pretty tired on the back to back, and they hit a bunch of shots. This time we just wanted to play our game and trust that it would work out. Plus we had foul trouble against them, so we just relied on our experience today; we’ve been there before, me and Ryan, so I think it showed this time out.”
Withstanding some solid punches from the Falcons, the Sabes prevailed by 13 as Garza went off for 16 points in the telltale third period, including an amazing stretch of five three-pointers in eight minutes. De la Cruz, owning the baseline on his patented leaning and twisting drives, also had the mark from outside, canning three bombs in the victory.
He noted that even when a player is hot, he has to stay within the team concept.
“Yeah, sometimes you know you can score but you have to relax and just let it come,” he said. “It’s a team sport no matter what and that is something the coaches always stress. You could tell we were a different team this time around.”
Besides the 57 points from the two great seniors, the cadre of Vela role players did enough to help make a difference, from Carlos Azubell’s seven rebounds (Sabes had a plus-12 board margin) to the contributions of Josh Trigo (big second-period three-ball and some hustle plays). Sophomore Josh Diaz has become one of the first subs off the bench, and de la Cruz suggested that the new guys have to do what he and Garza have done for years.
“Without Hector a lot of guys have to step up and be ready when their time comes,” said de la Cruz, speaking of graduated leader Hector Ruiz, who had a huge part in last year’s voyage to the Class 5A state tournament. “Those guys have to keep improving, show they know what we are trying to do, and just trust the system, that’s what it’s all about. When they get the hot hand they should trust their skills and make the plays, I think they’re starting to get there.”
The SaberCats had won thrice at the Vail prior to the final, a blowout of Lincoln and two narrow decisions, over Pioneer and St. Joseph. They came into the final having been held to 48 and 37 points by those last two foes, and needed a last-second de la Cruz shot to defeat Pioneer by 2. Vela withstood a scoreless third period to get by the Diamondbacks but played much better in the title match.
They have now won 11 games in a row with titles at the Craig Smith and Vail tourneys under their belt following a 1-3 start to 2016-17.
NOTES: Garza had nearly matched a career high Tuesday against McAllen, sinking 32 points in a 28-point SaberCat win. His best so far had come in bi-district 2015, when he torched P-SJ-A for 33, including 6 for 6 from downtown. Coming into the season, the legendary guard had scored 20 or more in 21 games, and this season has reached the mark seven times already. Last season he did the trick 14 times with a high of 29 on three occasions and 28 against Alamo Heights in the Class 5A regional tourney.