The body language was iffy, the girls were struggling, and the pesky Lady Wolverines would not go away.
But down the stretch of Saturday’s thriller at home against P-SJ-A Memorial, the Lady Bobcats found a way, and remained unbeaten in District 31-6A. The tense 52-46 decision made the team 3-0 and marked win No. 20 on the season for Coach J.D. Salinas and his club.
“I guess every team is allowed an off night every now and again,” smiled Salinas afterward, as sweat dropped down his face. “We knew Memorial had been playing very well, and they gave us all we could handle. They were aggressive on defense and hit their shots in the first half. But we were able to throw some junk defenses at them, and finally we started to play well enough to win. We’ll take it.”
Memorial canned a bunch of bombs in the first half and it was tied at 27 heading into the break. With star junior Jayla SantaMaria working against a tall defender and ample playside help, her sister Jenessah came through with 14 points, and junior Mercedes Hernandez exploded for 16, including a big stretch in the third that saw the Lady ‘Cats start to take control.
Still, they could not pull away from Memorial, which had upset Pharr North to start the league season. The Lady Wolverines got to within 1 twice in the fourth but each time, EHS engineered the key sequence to keep the advantage.
Perhaps the biggest moment was when senior Natalie Roxburgh pounded the glass for an offensive rebound, was fouled in the act, and soon completed a three-point play for a 50-46 lead with 1:16 left.
“And I got punched in the face when I shot that ball,” said Roxburgh, who turned in a couple of big blocks in the second half. “We had to step up when things got tough, Memorial had some good pressure today, they’re fast and we had to pick up the intensity at the end to get the win. We can’t underestimate anyone, we always have to come out and play hard.”
Roxburgh lauded the play of subs Brianna Sanchez and Sierra Velasquez, who came on to provide solid play against Memorial.
“Sierra, man, she did well, she comes in and she works!” she said. “Bri got some rebounds for us, and that is what we need from the bench, for them to step up out there.”
After a layoff following an emotional win against Vela two weeks ago, the Lady ‘Cats were surprised by the effort Memorial gave. But Salinas noted that they probably shouldn’t have been.
“We kept trying to tell them that these girls have a fine team, but I think we sort of expected we would just beat them,” he said. “But we did what we had to do, I think we got it going when we needed to.”
After Memorial cut the deficit to 43-42 in the fourth, Jenessah SantaMaria drive the lane for a tough bucket and then Hernandez stole one and raced in for a layup for a 5-point lead. Hernandez hit the mat behind the basket five times in the second half but as always, bounced back up and into the fray.
Still, the Lady Wolverines kept churning, making it 47-46, EHS at 1:38. Then Rox went to work on the glass for the big play. Memorial was very slow to foul in the final 45 seconds until at 0:11 Jayla SantaMaria sank two free throws for the final margin.