It was a much-anticipated collision between unbeaten, but before long the writing was on the wall at Vela Friday night. EHS, No. 5 in the Valley after six straight league wins and a glittering 18-4 start, ran headlong into the top dog, getting slaughtered 80-49.
Down by 10 after a period and 16 at the half, the Bobcats never were able to solve the SaberCat press – which had been the worry all along – and thus did not get into offensive sets with any consistency. Vela hounded the guards from start to finish and its defensive quickness meant that junior post Jesus Cantu, averaging 15 ppg coming in, seldom saw the ball in the paint. He finished with a season-low two points and sophomore sensation Antoine Woodard ended with 10 points and 11 boards.
Simply put, the experienced Sabes put the ‘Cats down for the count. Fast.
“They kept it close for awhile, but they have a pretty young team, while we definitely have more overall experience,” said senior star Ryan Garza, who bombed away for a game-high 25 points, including 21 in the first half, when Vela raced out to a 48-32 advantage. “We’ve played when the stakes are high and Edinburg hasn’t done that as much yet.”
Garza’s teammate and lifelong friend, Alec de la Cruz, contributed 21 points in the blowout, and showed what was up with No. 1 Vela early on. After being rejected by the jumping jack Woodard early in the first, de la Cruz returned the favor with a resounding block of his rival. Then he proceeded to whip to the basket with ease four times for scores in the first. With he and Garza also leading the D, the Bobcats were rattled and harried, throwing the ball away every other possession, it seemed.
And Vela will take advantage. The team soared to 80 points, seven better than its season average, many of the buckets coming off ‘Cat miscues.
Coach Lalo Rios’ club knocked down eight three-pointers, including two fourth-quarter tosses from 6-1 junior Hiram Diaz, who has become a shooting star these days in relief. Role players Jose Trigo and Carlos Azubell pulled down seven rebounds apiece as Vela dominated from start to finish.
“We were very prepared for this game, for the challenge of playing a hot team in a rivalry game,” Garza said. “Coach is always looking at films, and gets us ready to go with what we are going to face. I mean, he is telling us the plans way in advance, he works very hard to get us prepared, and that makes a huge difference.”
Now 7-0 in 31-6A and 22-3 overall, Vela heads to the second round of loop action having dispatched the next closest squad in the standings.
EHS meanwhile did not solve the riddle that confronted it, but there were still signs of promise. Damian Garcia produced 15 points to lead the ‘Cats and shifty Marc Figueroa, a transfer from Donna, notched 10. Cantu and Woodard made a handful of emphatic blocked shots and the latter threw down a couple of dirty dunks.
Coach Zeke Cuellar, speaking before the night began, said that he had told his kids that this game was like any other.
“I mean, we know who it is, and they’re tough,” he explained. “’But we want the kids to understand that it’s only one game. After this, we have four tough road games coming up against good teams and no matter what happens tonight, we need to keep in mind what we are doing, the entire schedule is important, every game. So while we’re very proud of our record so far, there’s still a lot of season left and we need to focus on winning as many of those four as we can.”
NOTES: Econ snapped a three-game losing streak Friday with a gutty 54-45 victory over P-SJ-A Memorial, as Angel Salinas sank 16 points, Miguel Gonzalez 13, and Hugo Morales 11. The Jags are now 4-3 and tied for third with Memorial and Pharr North. The North Coogs gained their second league success, a 25-point drubbing of P-SJ-A Southwest: soph Ricky Alaniz popped in his district high of 16 points.