Of course it was going to be way tougher than Tuesday, when the SaberCats soared to a city record 123 points, also setting a mark with 19 three-pointers, in an easy demolition of P-SJ-A.

Facing the resurgent Jags on the road Friday, Vela bounced to a 20-4 lead during a smashing first period, and took a 13-point edge into the second, the defense taking seven steals and making the upstart look awful rattled in the process. But by halftime, Econ had settled down, Vela had cooled off, and from there the Rivalry Game was nip and tuck.

Though they hung right with the Sabes after the break, the Jags never recovered from the early blitz. Vela won it, 54-40, to improve to 5-0 in District 31-6A and 20-3 overall; the team’s 19th straight victory came with seniors Ryan Garza (20 points) and Alec de la Cruz (19) doing their thing, on a day when the supporting cast did not play a prominent role.

For the Jags, 6-1 junior Saul Alaniz was the money man, scoring 14 points with nine rebounds. And had it not been for the strapping newcomer, Econ never would have come back. As it was, he knocked in 10 during the third, when the onrushing Orange came to within 3 at 38-35.

But Garza answered with a pair of hoops and in the fourth, he ran the motion offense like an expert, as the Sabes ran the clock down with dazzling stretches of strategic keep-away. This tactic robbed Econ of its momentum and in the haste to make up the lead, Coach Carlos Ramos’ club (3-2, consecutive losses last week to Pharr North and then Vela) turned it over three times in a two-minute stretch, sealing the deal.

Still, Econ pushed the Sabes, who shot poorly for the night, canning just two threes and going 6 of 13 from the free throw line. The Jags made six from beyond the arc but its guard play was jittery in the first half. Vela made seven steals in the first eight minutes with de la Cruz (11 points) taking four and scoring at will in transition.

Garza, who showed his all-around game with seven rebounds, said that the squad works on conditioning and it makes all the difference.

“Coach has been trying to get us to make faster starts, and in practice, the suicides and liners, no doubt they help,” said Garza, who helped his group to a 40-point first period Tuesday against P-SJ-A. “The idea is to get our mind right, ready for the fast start, push the tempo and get easy baskets.”

The All-Valley senior also noted that when the Sabes get into the delay, being in shape is also one of the keys.

“Conditioning, because it’s late in the game,” he commented on Vela’s halfcourt set, which is replete with movement, crisp passes, and the long-armed de la Cruz as the bailout in the middle. “And then, the thing is, always come to meet the pass, don’t wait on the ball. We knew Econ had some good anticipation on D, they were going to come out and try to disrupt it. But we just trusted our teammates, came to meet the ball, and didn’t panic when we saw the trap coming. That way, we were able to keep it for minutes at a time.”

Late in the day, as Vela controlled the clock and ball, sophomore Josh Diaz made a couple of hustle plays to keep the roll going, but in the main the day belonged to the two senior stars. Vela now looks forward to upcoming games at North Tuesday and at home versus EHS Friday, while the Jags play at EHS Tuesday and get P-SJ-A Memorial at home next.

The Bobcats are right with the Sabes at 5-0, after a 61-50 win over Pharr North Friday. Antoine Woodard and Jesus Cantu both turned in double-doubles in the victory, which made the Old Cats 18-4 overall. Now EHS ends the first half of league play with a one-two city punch, as stated, battling Econ and Vela this week in a duo of brawls that will help determine the standings heading to the halfway stage of the hunt.