The Cougars are feeling pretty good about their showing at the Craig Smith Tourney last weekend, as they hammered home a third-place finish with a win against Vela. The 62-56 defeat pinned on the SaberCats was impressive, especially considering the fact that North is still missing two injured starters.

“I think we’ll be alright, we got a chance to look at a bunch of other guys for extended minutes in this tournament,” said Coach Rudy Garcia, mentioning the fact that Ricky Alaniz and Noah Chavana were inactive for the Smith. “In the long run, having more guys who can come in and contribute is going to help us. We should have real solid depth heading into district.”

Felix Aleman has definitely played himself into the rotation, as he has been the team’s leading scorer in the early going. The slightly built but explosive guard canned 16 against Vela, with four bombs, and he has shown a fearless streak on the court. In an early round game versus Pioneer, he jumped on the Diamondbacks’ 6-2, 230-pound post and tied the ball up.

North is routinely getting eight or 10 fellows into the scorebook with veteran Abraham Nunez and rugged Juan Vazquez scoring steadily, though the former did suffer a possible concussion during the Smith. It is not the tallest team Garcia has had at North, but he has a bunch of mid-size Coogs who play not-small. Other than leaper Izaiah Rangel and trusty inside man Josias Vazquez, North has no other tree-like players of note, though football defender Roel de Leon is now on the roster to bring some toughness and grit to the drill.

North steamed through three foes at the tourney before running into EHS in the semis, losing 64-43. Garcia said that his club played way better in the third-place game than it had against the Bobcats.

“We didn’t do much against Edinburg High,” he admitted. “But against Vela I thought our effort was there and it was really a pretty solid performance by our guys.”

Meanwhile, Vela has been solid at times but at others has struggled. The SaberCats rested at 5-7 after the Smith, with losses to North and Econ. For the first time in recent memory the team is not scoring consistently. Four times in 12 games the Sabes have been held under 50 points as Coach David Keith continues to look for point production beyond wing Trey Chavana and post Noah Sekinger.

Guard Josh Diaz has been hampered with fouls the past several outings but one imagines he will emerge as a dependable 10-12-point guy in time. Newcomer Bobby Espericueta shows promise out front and instant offense threat Harim Diaz is always locked and loaded.

Right now, as the rotation solidifies, the offense is off and on, and the defense has yet to show that it can jump out and defend like mad, a program trait in the past. Keith is being patient with the team right now, saying that once the patterns set and the kids get used to their roles, the Sabes will be a force to be reckoned with. He has high hopes for new faces Austin Garza at guard and Jordan de los Santos at a wing. The former, younger brother of program great Ryan Garza, shows basketball IQ already, and knocked down a couple of triples in the 63-54 semi-final loss to Econ.

Another guy who is expected to be a factor, Jeremy Rodriguez, is nursing an injury right now, and was in a boot for the tourney.

Seniors such as Sekinger, Chavana, and Vince Olivarez will surely be able to parlay their experience into leadership roles as the campaign continues, making Vela a tough chore to tackle down the line. But there is no doubt that seeing the Sabes finish behind all three city rivals at the Smith was a bit of a shocker.