Though they had been bumping along below .500 this season so far, with as many downs as ups, the SaberCats figured that after a series of spirited workouts and some psychological adjustment, they were ready to explode. What better way to test that out than against a perennial power, McAllen Rowe, which came to town Tuesday night.
And it worked out well, as Vela (6-7) powered past the Warriors, 68-52, leading wire to wire with a combination of fierce defense and solid offensive execution. The dominant performance by Coach David Keith’s crew was fueled by a terrific effort from 6-5 post Noah Sekinger, who scored a game-high 23 points and hauled in 15 rebounds. The big man had the answers, on and off the court.
“It boils down to intensity, we just had to come out and play harder,” said Sekinger, who got ample assistance from sophomore Bobby Espericueta (10 sharp points in the first quarter), Trey Chavana (11 points) and rising contributor Austin Garza (10 points, five boards). “We wanted to come out and make every possession count, give more effort than we had been giving lately. For some reason we hadn’t been playing with enough energy, so this time we decided to really get after it. We ran a lot in the past few days, worked on defense a ton.”
The Sabes got after it from the tip, opening up a quick 10-5 lead with Espericueta nailing a couple of jumpers; each night he looks more comfortable in the offensive sets. Garza threw in a three-pointer and as the Vela defense battled to deny and harass the 8-6 Warriors, an 11-point run set the home side up at 21-8. Espericueta connected on a difficult twisting floater in traffic at the horn to end the first, good for a 23-10 advantage that would stand up for the duration.
Sekinger, active at both ends and hitting the glass with ferocity, set the tone for the hustling five. Garza barged in for an offensive rebound and fired out to Chavana, who whistled in a three as the second period got going. Vela was up 12 at the break and never allowed Rowe to cut the margin under double figures the rest of the way.
Vela was just too fast and furious to be headed, in one of its best outings of the year, scoring its second highest total so far, next to the 80 put up against Laredo United South in the season opener Nov. 14.
“Definitely the intensity, that was the key to the game,” Chavana said afterward. “The fact that we had struggled earlier in the season, that just gave us the fire to play harder and show what we can do. We weren’t complacent tonight, we didn’t want to lose again. And when we play with that fire, we are hard to beat.”
Keith is working some football players into the mix, as Nate Garcia and Azael Garcia got some minutes against Rowe. Jeremy Rodriguez, back from injury, provided a third-period boost with three hoops, and Sekinger was awesome in that frame with 12 points.
Next up for the Blue and Black was a trip to Los Fresnos Tuesday to take on the top-ranked Falcons. After the excellent showing at home versus the Warriors, Vela was confident and feeling strong. The team will be at the Calallen Tournament in late December before beginning District 31-6A competition at P-SJ-A Memorial Jan. 2.