It was just a summer league ball game, the start of the schedule of activity for the month of June. Meh… but … man, was it exciting!
Vela squeaked by with a tense victory over EHS Tuesday night, amid a raucous environment that had the gym rocking, sounding way more like playoff time than a supposedly meaningless offseason affair. We have come to expect that sort of energy from the rivalry of Old Cats and New, and this one was just flat fun to watch, aside from the generally woeful free throw shooting, it must be noted.
EHS went to war without two starters, Bri Sanchez (knee surgery last week) and A’nnika Saenz (recovering from her own process), and of course the Lady Bobcats are in the earliest stages of Jayla withdrawal.
But hand it to the Lady SaberCats, who battled well with their reasonably small lineup and came up with a handful of plays that made the difference in a 46-44 barnburner. The biggest came from little house afire Andrea Molina, who sank a huge three-pointer and then a breakneck drive to the tin in the waning minutes. Seeking more playing time as her sophomore season nears, the fearless and newly be-goggled guard was on the spot, and produced.
After Kayleen Rios gave the Lady Sabes a 39-38 fourth period lead at 2:44, things got downright wild. Alyssa Jade Salinas, who enjoyed a busy night of rebounding inside with Sanchez down for the summer, hustled and helped her club regain the lead; Daysha Tijerina scored for a 40-39 count.
Down 1, Vela inbounded and Molina immediately took one of the classic “no, no, no …. Oh YES!!!” bombs from outside and it found the mark, putting Vela up 42-40.
EHS, depending largely on veteran Jenessah Santa Maria out front – especially without the two injured kids and two graduated mega-stars, Jayla Santa Maria and Mercedes Hernandez – and she was up to the challenge, though Vela’s Abby Arredondo executed a neat block on one of her drives down the stretch.
Santa Maria eventually tied it at 42 with two free throws but there was Molina, driving to the dish against heavy traffic and hoisting in a banking layup with under a minute to go.
But again, Santa Maria, whose speed with the ball has improved, if that’s possible, drew a foul on the drive and converted two freebies. She was about the only girl making it from the line Tuesday, as each team shot less than 50 percent.
Fifteen seconds left now and to the line stepped Kameryn Casares, who had a productive night of work. She plunked in two shots and EHS was in trouble. The Lady ‘Cats missed a 3 but got one more chance, late, missing a pair of 0:04 charity tosses for the final, 46-44, Vela.
Without the wonderful Bianca Cortez, who walked the exit stage recently, the Lady Sabes will never be confused with a tall team out there, though Casares and Julia Cordon are hard-nosed kids who will get after it. Arredondo is by far the tallest option and she appears to be getting more comfortable with her role in the middle, at the top of the high post set, where she can pass or take a jumper.
EHS got up quick, 6-1 but Vela came on with eight in a row, notching a 9-9 tie after a quarter on an active Parks and Rec night, games going on all around. The Lady Sabes climbed into a 2-point lead at the break thanks to some slick play from Lauren Vega, a skinny incoming freshman with quick hands, ball skills, and range.
EHS employed its new Sister Act – North transfers Bri and Lesley Martinez to decent account – and lefty Bri especially was effective during the second half. The Lady ‘Cats are using the summer for role and chemistry work, with several new pieces on board. That takes time.
Vela rolled to an 8-point margin with Molina scoring off a feed from Rios and then on a strong foray to the goal. Bri Martinez led the Lady ‘Cats back with her quickness and Salinas scored off the inbounds late in the third to cap a 10-point roll that put the Old Cats ahead, 34-32.
With a 3-point edge heading into the fourth, the Lady ‘Cats got strong minutes from Daysha Tijerina but their lead melted away as Arredondo pumped in four quick points.
This led to the aforementioned denouement, in which the diminutive Molina came to the fore with her money moments.
Given the wounded warrior status at EHS, the win by Vela must be accompanied by an asterisk, technically speaking. But in this superb rivalry, a W is a W and every one is celebrated for the important point on the curve that it most certainly represents.