Yes, it was a strange sight indeed, seeing Lalo Rios in the stands watching his team in summer league action Monday … and knowing that his team is now to the east, in Elsa, and not at Vela.
Rios, the hometown hero who coached the SaberCats to great heights in five seasons before it all came to a sudden halt in the spring, saw his new guys battle against the new-look Vela crew, in one of the more poignant scenes from this month’s league wars.
The Sabes, paced by the increasingly dominant Noah Sekinger, eventually pulled away from Edcouch-Elsa, and for those who imagine that the former program might be a far cry from its former self … not so fast, at all.
Sekinger, who slammed in three resounding dunks and showed improved quickness at both ends of the court, is not alone as the team works toward living up to past and present expectations. Flashy junior Josh Diaz was outstanding with the basketball while muscular Econ transfer Jeremy Rodriguez exploded for 16 points in the final 10 minutes of a Vela win.
Minus absent lanky Trey Chavana, who ironically started his career at E-E before coming west, the Sabes still looked sharp at times, with football receiver Azzie Garcia exhibiting excellent quickness and a strong shooting stroke. Also missing was trusty low post soldier Vince Olivarez and a few other rotation members for the year ahead. Expect the Sabes to vie for the title once again.
“We have gotten better since the summer began,” said the 6-5 Sekinger, who is poised to become the No. 1 option and can handle the ball well for a big man. “It’s been a process, getting us all to learn each other’s game. In the past, we all knew what we could do, where we were going to be on the court, and that helps a lot. If we keep coming together as a team, learning what we can do, the people who think we won’t be that good are going to be in for a surprise. Let ‘em say what they want; we’re going to be tough.”
FACES IN THE CROWD
Watching the summer scrums last week was Brandon de la Cruz, the ex North sharpshooter now playing for Schreiner. He got some spot time as a freshman, hopes he will get into the rotation this year, and believes that his former club would be a district champ in the making,
“For starters, Izaiah [Rangel] is a beast, man,” exclaimed the spindly guard, who made the presidential dean’s list in his first year at Kerrville. “If all the guys get more aggressive, confident in what they have, I think the Cougars could be in the running to win it.”
Refereeing the games Monday was another Schreiner product, EHS folk hero Stevie Guerrero, and he is part of a coaching carousel that has turned madly in town the past few months. Guerrero has moved up to JV head coach for the Bobcats with the move of Lucio Rodriguez from EHS to Vela, where the latter is slated to be first assistant under new Sabes head man David Keith.
“I just try and focus on what I am doing today with the kids,” said ol’ Blue Eyes. “Every coach wants to move up, that’s the way it works, but everyone has told me – and this is good advice, I think – to just do your thing, work hard, and try not to look ahead. So that’s what I am doing. Pretty excited, really, about it all.”
Econ strapped it on with a tricky La Joya squad Monday, and won the bout with some fine late-game defense and execution. This is a good sign for the Jags, who have perhaps the most talented team in town and have been working on staying cool in the clutch, to put them over the top.
Shifty guard Angel Salinas enjoyed an excellent all-around night, scoring and passing with his fancy moves. Johnny Barrientos, who took the helm at the point for stretches as Econ held off a furious series of runs from the Coyotes, made some big buckets in the fourth, including a couple of pull-ups in lane traffic.
Heading into the season-ending tournament this week, Econ looked like a safe bet to fight for the trophy. But in a preview of the district season to come, each of the city fives has had its moments, and will be heard from, now, and also then. Gonna be a tremendous run, bro.