MCALLEN – One by one they each came up with a big play down the stretch of EHS’s win here Friday morning, but more importantly, the Ironmen kept the team concept alive amid a furious McAllen rush. Clinching a 55-51 victory over the Bulldogs in the second round of the Rowe Tournament, the Bobcats were able to work the clock, preserve a lead they had gained in the first period, and advance onward in the bracket.

Having led by as much as 18 in the first half, the ‘Cats closed out the Bulldogs though the latter squad banged in seven treys in the second half to make it close.

When the chips were on the table, each of the Bobcats came through. Jesus Cantu, the smooth junior post, finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds. Late in the game he grabbed three offensive rebounds on one possession, converting the third for a key bucket. Then he tipped a defensive rebound to senior Damian Garcia at the other end. Cantu is such a smart post player, never bringing the ball down, getting great position, and showing deft hands up top.

Earlier in the final period senior Mikey Trevino (18 points) made his presence felt. He had canned two rainbow threes to lead the Bobcats from a 9-4 deficit into command at 30-12, and down the stretch he made a terrific backdoor cut for a layup off a feed from springy sophomore Antoine Woodard.

Woodard made up for a subpar shooting day with outstanding defense, challenging every pass with his length and athleticism, and finished with 11 points and seven boards. He and Cantu take up a lot of space down low and they weathered foul trouble to stay on the court for the duration.

Once again, EHS went the whole way without subbing, following a first round win over Donna with an impressive result over a tall McAllen team that helped the cause by going 0 for 5 from the line in the fourth. The ‘Cats improved to 10-3 with the win and though they then were defeated by Los Fresnos, the tournament proved to be a positive going forward.

“Gradually we are learning how to play in certain situations,” said Coach Zeke Cuellar. “This team is gaining experience little by little, and today I thought we did a pretty nice job of working the clock, holding the lead, and closing it out.”

Point guard Matt Cruz ran the show out front, breaking the McAllen press early on and finding the open man. The Bobcats were precise with their passes, and exhibited excellent conditioning, which has been a must this season as there are only five kids with any varsity experience.

“Our defense set the tempo when we came back early,” Cuellar explained. “We are learning how to handle adversity and contain our emotions. I think besides conditioning, the kids play with adrenaline, and they are feisty, which helps them overcome a lack of depth.”

Playing in the coldest gym in basketball history, EHS went on a 26-3 run in midway through the first quarter with Cantu scoring nine and Trevino launching two super-long winners. At one point, Cantu blocked a shot and then the angular Woodard forced a turnover with quick hands and hustle. The Bobcats led by 15 at the half but McAllen whittled away at the lead with three-point shooting.

But every time the ‘Dogs got close, EHS had the antidote.

“This is all pointing toward district and we know that there are a bunch of tough teams ahead,” Cuellar commented. “These tournament games are helping us take minute steps forward, showing us the types of situations we are going to face in district. You never know with a young team, though. At La Feria last week we lost to a Rivera team that we had beaten by a bunch earlier in the week.”

North was also at the Rowe Tourney and Thursday saw a 2-point loss to St. Joseph, followed by two wins on Friday.

“We have had a bunch like that already this year,” said Coach Rudy Garcia, whose bunch dropped San Benito Friday and later beat Grulla. “We are going to have to find a way to win the close ones once district starts.”

North finished off the tourney in the consolation at Rowe while EHS played in the third-place match Saturday. The Coogs dropped to 6-14 after a loss to Mercedes while the Bobcats rose to 11-4 with a 6-point decision over St. Joe. Jesus Cantu made the All-Tournament for EHS.

In non-district action Vela easily subdued Lopez, winning 74-39 Friday.