TWO RIVALS TIED FOR FIRST WITH ONE NIGHT LEFT

You need a high-flying rebound or a highlight reel block? Ok, got it. How about speedy drives to the basket punctuated with graceful swooping scores? Check. The occasional dirty dunk? Yeah. The file on exciting sophomore Izaiah Rangel continues to grow by the week and Friday against Vela, the lanky leaper added some prime material to his basketball dossier.

Rising to another level at the right time, Rangel produced 27 points and nine boards to pace a 68-61 home victory for the Coogs, tying them in the standings with the SaberCats with but one night to go in the 31-6A scramble. He was everywhere, including out front handling the ball in crunch time, doing well, may it be said as North sought to hold on to a lead it took early and never gave back. This was after the promising prospect had nailed a couple of three-balls, a relatively new addition to a burgeoning repertoire.

There were other key factors as North (11-2, 24-11) won for the seventh time in a row and handed Vela (11-2, 19-14) its first debit in eight starts, and they will be enumerated in time. But Rangel was simply the man, putting 17 points on the board in the first half and finishing with a closing flourish that including 4 of 4 from the line in the last five minutes, as his team held off a desperate and dangerous Vela surge.

“I just felt like I needed to control the game, I think that, not to be cocky, no one can really guard me that well,” said the high riser, speaking politely and yet with refreshing candor. “It was a big game and I just thought I wanted to take over and help my team win.”

Now for the other Cougars, who banded together for a very solid showing in as Rangel said, a huge tilt. Senior Ben Vela, more important all of a sudden with the departure of sharpshooter Ricky Alaniz from the roster, knocked in 12 points and came up with a big steal late. Fearless Felix Aleman was his usually unflappable self, netting 11 (with three 3’s in the second period). Junior Juan Vazquez, the unsung hero of the recent EHS win, overcame a slow start to finish with eight points. And Josias Vazquez blocked three shots and challenged shots like crazy.

The Coogs were on fire, making nine bombs, to just one for Vela until a pair in the last minutes. They held a 4-rebound advantage Friday thanks in part to the hustle of junior Andrew Nunez, who crashed the boards for eight caroms, six in the telltale fourth period.

In short, everywhere the fans looked in this showdown for first place, there were North kids making the plays, breaking the press and getting open looks. And making them.

The SaberCats, who have steadily improved as the buy-in to new Coach David Keith’s system has progressed apace, never were able to take the lead, though they cut an 11-point deficit to four a few times down the stretch. Though workhorse junior Noah Sekinger performed with fire, good for 23 points and 14 boards, and though Trey Chavana chipped in with 16 points, Josh Diaz 10, Vela came up short in its attempt to salt away the undisputed crown.

With North set to take on cellar-dweller P-SJ-A Southwest Tuesday, the Sabes girded for another stern test, against EHS on the last evening of the league run. Friday, Aziel Garcia helped keep the club close with six in the fourth but each time the visitor crept into range, the Coogs had the tonic.

When the Sabes got within six in the third, they missed a couple of chippies, whereupon Rangel erupted with four quick ones, highlighted by a stepback 15-footer off contact which sent the North fans into ecstasy.

Garcia later hit a three to close to gap to 4 at 58-54 in the final three minutes-plus, but Rangel sank a pair of free throws. Nate Gomez connected twice at the line for Vela and it was 60-56 but after Vazquez made a free throw and missed the second, there was Nunez swooping in for the offensive rebound.

Vela misfired on a couple of layups at the wire but Diaz canned a trey to make it a 5-point game at 0:55. The Coogs closed it at the line, where they made a cool 11 of 15 in the last eight minutes.

NOTES: Econ claimed a tight contest at EHS Friday, winning 54-52 behind a huge night from Simon Pina, who collected 22 points to lead the Jags. Those two are tied at 9-4 in district. Econ finishes with 6-7 P-SJ-A Memorial Tuesday with the Bobcats taking on Vela. Fourth place in 31-6A will get a draw of Los Fresnos in bi-district, and that is tough stuff. The 31-6A champ will get either Harlingen South or Brownsville Rivera, while Weslaco and Harlingen are knotted for second right now.