There’s no real bad blood between the kids, as there is sometimes for rival teams. But still, Econ and Vela are getting sort of sick of each other these days, especially after a back-to-back affair created by a Vipers tournament Sunday and the beginning of the Parks and Rec summer schedule the next evening.
The city’s version of Cleveland-Golden State is getting old hat, with the SaberCats currently playing the role of the Warriors, it must be said. After a buzzer-beating jumper from Josh Diaz gave the Sabes the Vipers title Sunday, by 1, the Blue and Back came back against their familiar foe and started off the summer with a slightly easier muster, winning 60-55.
Vela held an 18-point lead through three before the Jags rallied furiously behind Saul Alanis and Johnny Barrientos, who each pumped in 17 points. When Econ crept close in the final minutes, a deep and talented Vela crew – which has the edge in depth over just about anyone it will play against in the near future – controlled the rock and got a key three-ball from Kaleb Coronado to ice it.
Vela, in between coaches right now as David Keith has left the program, got a fill-in from a historic notable, Ryan Garza, home from college basketball to help lead the SaberCat summer effort. His brother, Austin, is just one of a number of returning vets with experience.
In fact, seniors-to-be Diaz and 6-5 Noah Sekinger feel that whoever ends up getting the coveted Vela coaching job will have a whale of a team on his hands.
“I think we will be better than last year, we’ve been tearing it up in the tournaments, six for six so far,” said Sekinger, set for his last go-around as a Sabe. “We’ve been playing a lot with the Vipers, AAU, and we’re looking really good, I think. It’s starting to remind me of my freshman year, when we moved the ball so well and everyone could shoot it or pass.”
Truly, Vela should be one of the favored preseason picks, perhaps No. 1 despite the coaching uncertainty. With the veteran seniors, up-and-coming star Bobby Espericueta (hit four of the team’s 12 bombs Monday), and a plethora of solid troops such as the hustling Jordan de la Rosa, the Sabes are deep and lethal. Coronado knocked in four bombs and the vets say he is playing solid defense, too, while the younger Garza is as always an opportunistic, heady kid on the court.
The Jags should be right there in the newly configured 31-6A, especially with its outstanding guard tandem of Angel Salinas and Barrientos. If Alanis can provide the scoring punch he has shown intermittently in the past, and big man Rick Chapa can make strides with his inside game, Econ will be tough.
The task right now is to find the second unit, after the graduation of four cogs of the 2017-18 machine. The summer will give the Orange a chance to debut new options, including the Latest Barrientos, Michael, an incoming freshman who shows enough physicality and upside to probably stick with the big club in the winter. Guards Trini Moreno and Ethan Cruz are among the new Econ faces, and they will spend the summer showing they can handle the speed of the varsity game.
Vela rushed out to the lead with Espericueta on fire early, and amassed a 13-point bulge at the half, Sekinger parading to the free throw line consistently and the rest of the gang shooting the lights out.
Alanis made a 3 and two free throws to spark the Cavs, but it was Warriors by 18 after three, thanks to a couple of shots from the spindly Coronado and hustle from de la Rosa and Azael Garcia.
In the fourth Econ performed like it had in the tight Sunday scrum, with J. Barrientos scoring splendidly on drives and the Jags making their free throws in bunches. It was an 8-point game when Diaz defensed Salinas and soon after assisted to Coronado, who canned a three to make it 65-54. That 5- or 6-point swing was the difference as Vela held off a game Econ charge, and one can expect more of this competitive fire from these two groups come the season.
Diaz says that the Sabes have been a team-oriented unit as of late.
“It’s going to be more than just a few guys this year, because we have a bunch of guys who can make plays,” the quickster opined. “In the tournaments I have seen a lot of depth, we have been winning by 20, 30 points, and everyone has contributed. We’re passing the ball quick, getting it to the open man, we got a lot of options, man.”