When the lead edged up to nine, it was about over, as the Bobcats went into a delay game that is starting to look very solid in the late stages of quarter and game. In the salad days of yore, this was one of the signature elements of the program’s excellence, the ability to use the clock to positive advantage.
Having led for most of the day Friday on the road at North, EHS employed the tactic perfectly to subdue the Cougars, passing and receiving like a veteran five, which of course it is. With 5:01 left and a 9-point bulge, the ‘Cats worked the seconds well, keeping it away from North and finding open looks off the stall. The final result was a 50-39 victory that made them 3-0 in District 31-6A, 19-6 overall.
Coach Zeke Cuellar has wanted to do some more practice on the technique, but with the holiday break, an interruption for five days in late December, it was difficult to maintain continuity, much less throw in some extra work. Luckily he has some experienced ballhandlers such as Matt Cruz and Damian Garcia, guys who know what to do with the ball when it counts.
“Matt is just a smart kid, real smart player out there,” said Cuellar, whose club has performed well all season and is probably the outfit playing the best in the loop. “He’s the kind of kid who doesn’t score much but he knows the game and he makes good decisions.”
The other great thing about the slowdown Bobcats is that scoring stars Antoine Woodard and Jesus Cantu can both handle the rock and find the open man; Woodward was out of his mind early on Friday, knocking down a trio of long ones to give the ‘Cats a boost out of the gate. Cantu finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds and showed that he can get to the open spot, field a pass, and keep the drill rolling.
After heaving beaten P-SJ-A and P-SJ-A Memorial, EHS faced a North crew that has been gaining steam by the week. But the Coog offense never got into any sort of groove Friday, despite occasional flurries from Andrew Nunez and Felix Aleman, who combined for 17 points and four threes. The most effective North kid was soph Izaiah Rangel, who had 14 points, 10 boards, and several blocks – one was on the high-flying Woodard, who compiled 21 points and capped the night with a ringing slam dunk. Those two levitate in the rafters, Zay and ‘Toine.
The Coogs hung tough through one, down 14-12, and Rangel tied it at 19 with free throws. But Garcia rang the bell for 3, Cruz tossed in a hoop and Cantu scored for a 26-21 lead. Rangel’s score and two free throws from Alec Cavazos left North down just 1 at the half.
In the third Woodward penetrated to draw the D and dished to Cantu for two, and eventually it was 38-33 when Garcia (13 markers) finished the third period with a driving reverse layup, the ‘Cats again showing aptitude at the end of a quarter.
They may not have much depth – though sophomore Jorge Hernandez, sister of girls’ captain Mercedes – has emerged as sixth man. But the ‘Cats are smart, athletic, and practiced at the art of keep-away. North blew some open chippies in the fourth, allowing EHS to spread the court and while away the minutes toward the triumph.
NOTES: Vela is quietly off to a 3-0 start in league, after a victory against Pharr North Friday in which Noah Sekinger erupted for a career-high 28 points. The SaberCats seem to be getting their act together and were set to take on P-SJ-A Tuesday before beginning a three-game gauntlet against city rivals that will truly begin to tell the tale.