Minute and a half to go, game safely in hand, and the Big Three ran their motion, handoff sets, deftly and happily. As the Lady Bobcats put the finishing touches on the summer league title trophy Thursday, Mercedes Hernandez and the Sensational Santa Marias (Jayla and Jenessah) were in their element, using quickness and skill to keep the ball away from the opponent.
Ah, the opponent. None other than San Benito, the team that knocked EHS out of the playoffs last year with a stunning bi-district upset. While the 46-34 revenge victory will not change the result from February, it don’t hurt, either!
The striking fact moving forward was that in the closing minutes Thursday, the two kids lodged in the low post watching the dribbling and passing show, well, they’d had a huge hand in the championship.
That would be sophomore post Bri Sanchez and junior wing Alyssa Jade Salinas. While the Big Three combined for 39 of the team’s 46 points, those two others were excellent in their roles, showing that this club should hit the regular season feeling good about its chances to get into the Dance again, and this time do some damage.
Sanchez grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots, giving the lineup a solid inside presence heading into 2017-18. And Salinas, who had weathered a bloody nose in the semifinal a day before, continued to impress with her physicality and hustle. Time and again, she kept loose balls alive and contributed to a winning possession; with the veterans seeing most of themshots, Salinas knows her job is to bang and to compete, jump out hard and play tough defense.
Every team needs an Alyssa Jade to put it over the top. Now that Julissa Cuellar has graduated form Vela, Salinas steps into the light as the new WMC, World’s Meanest (ex) Cheerleader, for sure. Maybe put school chum Maria Reyes in that mix, too.
The Lady Bobcats, having pounded North in the semis, withstood some hot shooting from San Benito, leading by 3 after a period and 4 at the half. They got good work from post Dani Rivas and forward Sierra Velasquez and all the while, there was Salinas, firing into the pack to tip a ball here, coming up with an offensive board there. For a kid who did not score, she really made a difference to the keen observer. Rivas jammed into the stack to grab an offensive board, and her continued improvement will help the effort if it carries into the season.
EHS was up 3 into the fourth when its superior conditioning took over. Jenessah knocked down a key 3 after a Salinas hustle play retained possession, for a 38-32 lead. Sanchez made a huge stuff at the defensive end, right about the time Hernandez appeared ready to take on the entire Lady Greyhound group, tempers flaring as they sometimes do.
The winners scored the last eight markers to put it away, and hoisted the hardware. Though it has been a low-key summer season, with only a handful of teams in the churn thanks to other leagues becoming more popular around the Valley, the Lady ‘Cats took the tape in first. And their role players did a whale of a job overall, auguring well for the future.
NOTES: Former Lady Bobcat running sensation Sonia Sepulveda was inducted into the Rio Grande Valley Sports Hall of Fame over the weekend, along with long-time UTRGV trainer Jim Lancaster. Sepulveda was one of the finest distance kids ever to compete in the area, while Lancaster, a fixture on the college hoops scene for more than 30 years, is married to the great coach, Tencha Lancaster; their offspring, Lisa, was a hot swatter for the EHS volley crew back in the day, and now has followed her mother into the coaching racket.