It was a night of The Last Stand, with the Lady Coogs fighting for their basketball lives at home against a bitter foe. But any chance they had of hanging in the playoff race was dashed instantly Tuesday as a hot-shooting EHS crew blazed to a 20-4 lead late in the first period.
Firing away at 52 percent from the floor for the game, the Lady Bobcats cruised to 11-1 in District 31-5A behind 25 points from relentless junior Jayla Santa Maria and 19 from equally scintillating sophomore sister Jenessah. The result was thorough domination at both ends of the court, as EHS made its shots and made sure that North did not by pressing mercilessly and knocking the rival off balance the whole way.
Though senior Tiffany Chapa competed valiantly, finishing with 18 points, no other Lady Coog was able to get into double figures, the team dropped to 5-7, and was eliminated from the hunt with two contests remaining.
Jayla Santa Maria, notching her fifth 20-plus scoring night of the league slate, hit mid-range jumpers and drove the lane with precision; she also hit the boards tenaciously at both ends, ending with 10 rebounds, and was particularly nasty in a 14-point exhibition in the third. By then the Lady ‘Cats were well on their way to the season sweep – their only loss was to Vela recently – with an 18-point lead at the half.
Down the stretch, as Miranda Faz (seven points, four boards, effective in the second half) helped North cut the deficit to 10 on a few occasions, Jenessah raced end line to end line, canning 12 in the fourth; she continues to be the wild card for this well-oiled veteran squad that has designs on a 31-6A title and some playoff noise. When the speedy sophomore is on her game, EHS is very difficult to contain.
The final count of 67-51 was aided by the passing expertise of junior Mercedes Hernandez, who chipped in with a dozen points but was most lethal on the drive and dish, copping six assists.
Each night Coach J.D. Salinas seems to get contributions from the bench, and Tuesday it was Alyssa Jade Salinas, who grabbed five rebounds in about 10 minutes of action. This is a good sign heading forward because Salinas and 6-2 freshman Bri Sanchez are going to need to provide some inside muscle for the Lady Cats, who do not have the experienced size of the past.
But the way the girls shot the rock on the road, size may not be the final factor in their postseason journey looming on the horizon. Their ferocious defense and ability to score in transition has produced seven 31-6A games of plus-60 points, with a high of 80 against Econ way back on the league’s first night. And with the Sisters Santa Maria motoring around creating havoc, EHS has to be considered a favorite to prevail in bi-district after consecutive first-round exits dating back to 2015.
Now, they still have to finish out and stay ahead of a surging Vela squad, one that took down a fading Pharr North outfit Tuesday to remain one game back in the standings. Pharr North and that pesky Memorial group will be the other playoff combatants this season.
For Edinburg North, attention turns to next year, when Coach Jenny Garcia will have ample talent back in the fold. She has also benefited in recent weeks from the return of one of the program greats.
Hot shot Vicky Pena, a dribbling, shooting and scoring machine back in the not so distant day, has graduated from Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches, is back in the Valley to take a part-time job at UTRGV in athletics compliance, and has been a frequent visitor to her old stomping grounds.
With her college basketball experience, Pena noted at Tuesday’s rivalry clash that she might try to get into the coaching business at some point. And this would be a natural thing given her sterling chops at North and then at the next level.