MISSION – When they really get it going – as they did for stretches early in the tournament here last weekend – the Jags are something to see. They pass and cut and carve holes in the opposing defenses, ping-ping-ping goes the ball as Econ deftly runs circles around foes.
Coach Sam Gonzalez knows that he has a serious group of talented kids on his hand this year, but he also knows that skill is one thing, consistency another, and coming together as a unit still a third element.
“I’m looking at a couple of years with a bunch of really good players,” said the 18-year veteran after his team defeated Weslaco East at Sharyland Thursday. “But we still have not, in scrimmages and today at the tournament, been able to finish as well as we need to. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t, and as good as these guys are, they need to improve.”
Gonzalez was speaking of his veteran leadership core, paced by the incredible Jonathan Segundo and assisted by the wily Mario Ferrer; these are guys that grew up with the ball on their feet and one can tell. Against East the Jags gave up a flash goal early, suffering on the counter, always a risk with an aggressive, attacking team.
But then they got busy controlling the ball with speedy feeds and slick work on the ball. Hiram Espino was active all game long and created a couple of openings with rushes down the right side. One set up a corner, which Ferrer located and slotted for the equalizer midway through the first half. The spindly Ferrer, who is way tougher than he looks, tallied again before the half, after a dizzying array of showmanship plays from a number of Jags.
Foremost as always was the bandy-legged Segundo, whose strength is rivaled by his exceptional agility and buoyed by amazing tenacity. Jona is just not to be denied out there and in the rare situation where he is dispossessed, has the unique flair to regain the ball with a quick hip-check and step in, all at top speed and full bore. He is truly second to none is Segundo, by far one of the greatest athletes to ever lace the togs for this storied program.
This year’s defense is rock-solid with clever Juan Hiracheta, who routinely takes it away and starts up the pitch to set up plays. He is joined by a physical specimen in Marlon Galicia, with keeper Javi Perez always a game competitor in the hole. Other Jags who bear watching this year – as Econ seeks to climb back to the top of the standings – include sophomore Chris Garcia, a sturdy chap with fine ball talents, and classmate Orly Rodriguez, one of the fastest Jags with the ball and without. Athletic Abraham Alferez is another vet with fast wheels. In fact, everywhere the Jags have size, speed, and experience.
“We had Sharyland this morning, lots of pressure and plenty of good shots, but we didn’t finish, like I was saying,” said Gonzalez, whose side lost in penalty kicks to the Rattlers. “This is not the Sharyland of old, but they’re still pretty tough, and we outplayed them all the way.”
Gonzalez knows that talent is great to have, but at the end of the day, all that matters is the result. At one point, after East had taken the surprise lead, the coach launched into one of his classic tirades from the side.
“Vamos, chavos, we have to wake up out there!” he complained. And just like that, the Jags responded, with Segundo in the middle of a supreme surge that made the Wildcats look like a JV team trying to stay afloat against the superior varsity.
This is one of the best groups the Jags have had in years, and it will continue its refinement process this week at the Laredo Tournament. With North coming off a historic state Final 8 appearance last year, and P-SJ-A Southwest looking sound along with the Bears, the league slate will be a rough deal all around. Vela is improved, and no team can be ignored.
BOBCATS WORKING WELL AGAINST THE ODDS
That would include EHS, which was also at the Mission outing, dropping games to Roma and Sharyland Thursday. The Bobcats got lots of scrimmage work in before the tourney, four games worth, but are missing four starters right now.
“If we can get those guys back we can be competitive,” said long-time coach Luis Cardenas, before his team battled well against Shary, losing just 1-0. “If we don’t, well, it’s going to be tough, we have struggled so far to be honest.”
Even in depleted mode, the ‘Cats showed spates of strong play, especially down the middle with the burly tandem of Arturo Garza and Emmanuel Duron; defender Genaro Martinez is a lithe and agile defender and speedy Jovani Calderon has the knack for breaking down defenses in the attacking third.
It all comes to depth, and for the Bobcats this has been an issue for several seasons. Once one of the Valley’s most consistent winners, EHS had to adapt to the birth of Vela back in 2012, and has done so with only intermittent success.
“It boils down to numbers and since the split we just haven’t had as many guys out here,” explained Cardenas, who is one of the most energetic coaches around. “So for us, losing several kids for any stretch of time really causes problems. I am still having a good time coaching, we have hard-working players … but I tell, you it’s always a better time when you are winning.”
NOTES: Econ won four of five at Mission, including a victory over EHS, 2-1 and a PKs decision over perennially strong Alexander out of Laredo. The Bobcats failed to scratch in five outings, posting four one-goal losses; one was to East in PKs. Vela took wins against Mercedes and Eagle Pass in five tries. At Brownsville for the inaugural Southmost Classic, North defeated McAllen High before losing to powers Porter and Los Fresnos.