Talk about peaking at the right time!
As the calendar year unfolded, Vela just kept on getting better, climbing in the hoops standings, and after the Lady SaberCats set a season high for points on the final night of district play Tuesday, they heard some super-good news.
Having wrapped up an 83-19 laugher against Econ, the Lady Sabes found out that EHS had been beaten by Pharr North, meaning that the two city rivals wound up tied for first in District 31-6A, at 12-2.
Though Vela lost the subsequent flip for the No. 1 seed, the momentum from a nine-game winning streak carried Coach Lottie Zarate’s team into the playoffs with some force.
Vela (20-14 overall), below .500 for most of the non-district slate, weathered a series of injuries to regain stride when it counted, and a 46-44 stunner over the first-place Lady Bobcats Jan. 20 was a harbinger, as it turned out.
On the last night of the regular season, Bianca Cortez exploded with a season-best 22 points and Vela ended up tied with the Lady ‘Cats, who were dropped by a single point by the Lady Raiders.
In their first season back in 6A after a two-year 5A sojourn, the Lady Sabes advanced to a bi-district match at home Monday, against Harlingen South (20-15 overall). Having lost to the Lady Hawks by 3 during non-district, Vela was prepared to avenge that result and move on to the second round. South, coached by former Econ mentor Kelly Garrett, has been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round the last four years.
EHS, meanwhile, has been a frequent No. 1 in the Valley this season but failed to salt away not only its 30th victory but the league title as well. Nonetheless, the team was a heavy favorite heading into Monday’s home bi-district tilt with 24-12 San Benito, the fourth seed from 32-6A.
In the playoffs for the fifth straight season, Vela was looking to win a bi-district game for the third time, following successes in 2014 against Laredo LBJ and 2016 versus Mercedes. The Lady Sabes dropped out after round one in 2013 (Laredo Alexander) and 2015 (Tuloso-Midway).
The Lady ‘Cats came into the Second Season looking for their first playoff win since 2013, after consecutive bi-district losses the past two years. In 2012-13, Coach J.D. Salinas led the club to a league title in his first year as head coach, and a pair of victories in the postseason.
In five seasons at the helm since replacing the legendary Rachel Carmona, Salinas has compiled a glittering record of 120-59. He was an assistant on the EHS teams that went to the Sweet 16 in 2010 and again in 2011. The program also went to the fourth round back in 2006.
The Lady ‘Cats have beaten most of the top 6A clubs in the Valley this year, including Weslaco and Harlingen, the top seeds from 32-6A, plus McAllen Memorial and McAllen, the best 30-6A teams advancing to the playoffs.
Probable area-round foes for the city girls should they triumph: EHS would face the winner of the McAllen-Laredo United game while Vela would draw the Rowe-Laredo Alexander victor. Both Laredo schools were considered favorites to advance, particularly Alexander.