It was a tournament that would have pleased its namesake, replete with old friends, good eats, and fine basketball action. No doubt that Craig Smith, the former Edinburg Daily Review sportswriter who was much beloved – though he met an untimely death at age 39 – would have been entertained at the latest iteration of the city classic.
EHS ended up on top after a sharp 5-game run ending in a 50-43 victory over Econ, at the home of the Jaguars, by the way. The immense talent that is Antoine Woodward captured the MVP for the Bobcats (now 8-4), Jesus Cantu exhibited his usual array of picture-perfect plays in the paint, and the now-veteran Damian Garcia joined Cantu on the All-Tournament team after a superb showing at both ends of the floor.
The Smith thus ended its latest run, after a semi-final featuring all four city schools; of course, back in Smitty’s day, there was but one school in town, but surely the indefatigable reporter would have adjusted well to the blessing/burden of three additional clubs to cover.
In the final, the Jags led 8-7 early but never again, as the depleted cast minus (for the most part) an injured Saul Alanis struggled to contain Cantu (13 rebounds) down low, while Woodard tossed in 17, Garcia 11 in a low-scoring, at times pedestrian title tilt. Econ (falling to 7-2) had topped Vela in its semi, the ‘Cats having stomped North by 21, and against the ‘Cats, Jags Angel Salinas and Johnny Barrientos led their squad with 13 apiece.
Alanis played sporadically during the Smith due to an ankle injury and his return to health is a must going forward. In his stead, Coach Carlos Ramos employed big Rick Chapa and strapping Aizer Cavazos. The latter had pumped in 17 markers to help the Orange defeat Vela, 63-54, in the penultimate match, Barrientos adding 16.
In the final, the Bobcats pushed to a 13-point halftime lead against a tentative Jag crew that lacked the energy it had shown in four Smith wins coming in. The Jags picked it up late, closing to within 3 at 46-43 on a three-ball at 0:59 from Salinas, EHS’s 3-of-8 clunker from the free throw line in the fourth helping the home side stick around.
In the final minute, though, EHS came through with the key moments, first when the surprisingly nimble Cantu jumped in to deflect a pass and facilitate a steal, and next when Garcia came up with a huge blocked shot to seal the deal.
Coach Zeke Cuellar, watching his kids hoist the trophy amid the post-game rustle, commented that once his talented kids learn to put teams away, he’ll be happy.
“We’ve had some trouble doing that, up in Laredo and now in this tournament,” the veteran coach groused. “When we have a chance to seal it, we need to make the plays to do it, and not do individual stuff. We really had this thing put away but we let them get back into it, and we cannot do that and hope to have a chance to win district.”
With the 31-6A slate a few weeks hence, all four city teams are revving the engines for what should be a monumental struggle for the top spot. With their convincing performance at the Smith, the Bobcats have taken the first step along the path to glory, and yet they know that with a healthy Alanis, Ramos’ club is longer, faster, and definitely more dangerous.