Before the regular season finale on the road at Vela, EHS hoops coach Zeke Cuellar was wondering which of his kids was going to step up and help the big-time scorers, with a clutch night.
“In our losses we haven’t gotten much point production beyond the few top guys,” he mused, right before junior Marc Figueroa turned in one of his best performances of the year.
The speedy guard pumped in his district season best of 15 points, adding six boards as the Bobcats ended a recent slow spurt with a 60-49 victory, concluding their 31-6A ledger at 10-4 and keeping the Sabercats (11-3) from tying North for the district title.
Figueroa was terrific and so was junior Antoine Woodard, who led the way with 19 points, and senior Damian Garcia, who added 13 more. The Bobcats sank seven 3-pointers in the win, and this from a team that does not generally rely on the long ball. They had it working Tuesday and the fast-footed work of Figueroa – plus a solid floor game from junior Matt Cruz – allowed the ‘Cats to pull the ball out and burn the clock in the fourth period, after they had established 12-point lead at the end of three. When they needed speed, though, they got it.
“We wanted to come out and play fast, we have worked on that, increasing the tempo,” said Donna transfer Figueroa, who scored eight in the first half as the Bobcats (26-10 overall) rebounded from a six-point deficit to carve out a five-point lead by the break. “I knew it might be sort of a one-on-one game with the guards, and I came out to blow by anyone who was taking me.”
Cuellar’s crew had begun the district slate with six straight wins, followed by a loss to Vela at home. Their second half record was just 3-3 heading into the finale, but they go into the playoffs on a roll after a vital road triumph, and with the added joy of a win against their bitter rival after three successive defeats dating to last campaign.
Woodard did his damage in stretches after picking up three fouls in the first half and spending five minutes on the bench. He canned a couple of bombs in the third as the team steadily built a lead, but then was saddled with No. 4 midway through the quarter. But EHS kept rolling, getting seven points from Figueroa, including a long three from the right corner that just beat the buzzer to end the stanza.
Up 54-42 with eight minutes to go, the ‘Cats stalled the ball well, looking much more active than a sagging Vela club, which had run out of gas by then. Junior Noah Sekinger was once again the main Vela threat, ending with 18 points and eight rebounds. But no other Sabe got doubles in the closer, Nate Gomez (eight) coming closest. Vela hit five bombs in the first half but just one after the break, and even poor free throw shooting from the home side (6 of 12 in the fourth) could not spark any real energy from the Blue and Black.
Figueroa, who seemed to be on supersonic skates the entire night, weaving his way past Vela defenders with ease, noted that in a way, he is prepping for next season.
“We lose some great seniors, like Jesus [Cantu] and Damian,” he said. “And I know I am going to have to step up and score more next season.”
With North’s closing W over P-SJ-A Southwest, the Coogs clinched the league title, rising from a middling start in non-district (6-8 at one point) to a 12-2 mark in the league. North (25-11) goes into the playoffs on an eight-game win streak, and Tuesday will welcome Harlingen (27-10), which was beaten unexpectedly by Brownsville Rivera Tuesday to fall to the fourth seed.
Rivera (18-13) closed with a late rush to get third, meaning a bi-district clash with Vela. The Sabes (19-15) were leading the loop at 11-1 before successive stumbles against North and EHS, but still made the grade at No. 2, and actually of the four clubs in the hunt from 32-6A, the Raiders are the least threatening in some respects. The Vela-Rivera game will be in Brownsville Tuesday.
Econ (24-12) and the Bobcats finished tied for third at 10-4 and were to have a coin flip to decide 3-4, the loser having to tackle a formidable Los Fresnos outfit (30-6 record) in bi-district. Third was to draw Weslaco (26-8), a team that started poorly (3-4) before running off seven in a row. The Jags ended fourth and will be at Los Fresnos Tuesday, the same night that EHS takes on Weslaco at home.