They knew, they absolutely and unequivocally knew. This time, it was going to different … and it was.
With memories of last year’s last-minute blown outright title still in their subconscious, the Lady Bobcats strode confidently on to the court Tuesday to right a lingering wrong and take another step toward destiny. Their opponent, Pharr North, had beaten the Lady ‘Cats at this stage in 2017, but this one was revenge, baby!
“Oh yeah, we knew, even when we went down early, we didn’t worry much,” said senior Mercedes Hernandez, who enjoyed a post-game face full of cake on Senior Night, after a 23-point victory at home made her team the undisputed queen of the dance at 14-0, 30-8 overall. “The attitude was, coming in, ‘we gotta win,’ and that’s how we played.”
After falling behind 9-0, EHS got a clutch three from Hernandez and started to drive, draw and dish; the beneficiary of the tack was sophomore Bri Sanchez, who was money inside on her way to a 10-point night; she was front and center as the champs exploded for 14 points in a row to take a lead they never relinquished.
Junior Jenessah Santa Maria, by far the fastest and most well-conditioned athlete on the floor for this huge test, agreed that the mindset was right this time around; after last year had ground to a halt with three losses in the last four games – including a shocker in the first round of the postseason – the Lady ‘Cats were ready for redemption.
“We started slowly but we just had to pick it up,” said the speedy guard who ran circles around the not-slow Lady Raiders all night. “Defense picked it up, and yeah, we knew … we worked together, we didn’t get down and we came back!”
And as for probable two-time All-Area MVP Jayla Santa Maria, well, she showed that she doesn’t have to be the superstar every night. Her maturity and ability to do what needs to be done rank her with the all-time greats in program history, 2,000-plus points aside.
“We know what we are capable of, we were not going to lose the biggest game of the year,” remarked Santa Maria, who scored just nine points against constant double-teams but collected nine rebounds and calmed the squad early on with steady leadership. “The thing is, we played without A’nnika today and that gave Daysha a chance to step up.”
A’nnika Saenz, the fabulous freshman, sat out with a knee injury but will be back in action when the bi-district tilt against Los Fresnos arrives. Classmate Daysha Tijerina indeed gave the club a boost during its first period comeback, nailing a bomb, generating two turnovers on D, and generally playing like a non-freshman for a while.
North came out firing with plenty three-balls in the early going and at 4:26 had a 9-0 lead. But the Lady ‘Cats, they knew. And they responded.
After Hernandez knocked in the triple, Jayla Santa Maria drove baseline and found Sanchez for an easy deuce. Next it was Lil’ Sis with the penetration and feed to Sanchez, who towered over a tiny Lady Raider quintet. Tijerina stole one and went the distance with a stylish lefty lay-in and whoa, 9-9 at 3:11.
In this 1:15 streak of greatness, the die was cast, and as North began to blink and shrug, perhaps sensing that the jig was up, EHS just kept coming on.
Tijerina jumped a North guard at midcourt and created a turnover, and at the other end Hernandez sliced through to create an open look for Sanchez. When Jenessah sank a long J for three, it was 14-9.
EHS rambled for 22 in the opening period and led by 5 at the half, as North began to misfire from downtown. In the third quarter, Hernandez opened the drill with another 3 and it was a 12-point margin as the fourth loomed.
The Lady Raiders went bone dry after the break, scoring just nine points. The home girls’ biggest lead was the final count, 23, after they simply ran the opponent down like so much roadkill. The celebrations were subdued, however, at the close, as befits a squad that knows what lies in store.
The last time the Lady ‘Cats won a playoff game was back in 2013, and this team of teams – intent on carving out its niche as the finest in the long, storied tenure of the program – understands that now is the time. The time to churn through, live up to its No. 1 ranking, and do what any team wanting to be considered an all-timer must do: go three-deep in the playoffs.
That level of success is the gold standard and the girls know it. They have always known it, and now they have the experience, the talent, and the opportunity to make it reality, a step at a time.
“We’re going to stay fired up, we need to keep this energy that we had tonight,” said Jayla SM. “Now is the time to keep it going, into the playoffs. We didn’t get down tonight, because we just knew were going to win. And this is just the beginning.”
NOTES: The swing begins Monday night in Los Fresnos and a day later, Vela will in Cameron County to take on 32-6A titlist San Benito on the Lady Greyhounds’ home court. The Lady Sabes finished 8-6 in district, a notch ahead of city rival North.