Jenny Rae Garcia is not actually a chemistry teacher; she’s the long-time basketball coach at North. But as a former high school star and college player, she knows what coming together as a team can produce, and in the District 31-6A opener at home Friday, she saw her group make great strides toward that all-elusive goal of togetherness in the clutch.

North rebounded from an awful start to explode for a 24-4 second quarter, amassing a 14-point halftime lead against Vela. The advantage held up down the stretch as the Lady Cougars made the plays when they had to have them, showing guts and unity under pressure to subdue the Lady SaberCats, 58-52.

From the shot-blocking of senior Miranda Faz to defensive hustle from the guard corps led by junior Bri Martinez, North staved off a late Vela rally. Haydee-Anna Garcia coolly knocked in four nothing-but-net free throws at the wire, and North scored a tremendous victory.

“It’s a rivalry game so we were overwhelmed at first, emotionally,” said the coach afterward. “But we overcame that and got back into it. Our defense was strong and we always get some offense off our defense. The girls also showed the beginnings of real chemistry out there and it came at the right time, in district.”

At first, Vela was ready to brawl, getting steals off the press to climb ahead, 8-0. Tilly Villarreal, later to leave the game with an injury, saved the day for a rattled Lady Coog outfit by scoring six in the first period, but North was down, 13-7 after one.

Then, the Lady Coogs started clicking as Anzhelany Jordan locked down on Vela guard Kayleen Rios with assistance from pesky little Miranda Gaytan, and at the other end, the shots started falling. Lesley Martinez knocked in a pair of bombs and in the quarter, North connected five times from downtown, stopping the Lady Sabes with their D and scoring in bunches to assume a 31-17 halftime bulge. Jordan’s quickness and grit keyed the surge and she also chunked in eight points as the game complexion changed abruptly.

Vela post Bianca Cortez rallied her squad with six points in the third but Vela (0-1, 13-6) could only trim the lead to 11 heading into the fourth. That’s when Rios got cranking, running off 11 in the fourth to bring her mates to within 3 at two junctures. Defensively, junior Julia Cordon had a hand in the comeback, and so did sophomore Kameryn Casares (seven rebounds, four steals).

Rios converted a three-point play to make it 48-42, North and it was a 3-point game after free throws from Cordon late. But with North’s senior Garcia sinking her charity tosses North sealed it, and the coach was happy about the contributions of all of her girls.

“This is a team without one superstar, they all come in and do something to help us,” Coach Garcia noted. “Tilly came through to help us get going, and Miranda Faz had some great plays; she has potential to do that. Anzhelany was a real spark for us, because she is so, so athletic … everyone worked hard to get this done.”

Cortez finished with 18 points and 11 boards for Vela, and Rios collected 13 points and six rebounds. Coach Lottie Zarate had mused before the game about her team’s relative inexperience, wondering how the Lady Sabes would respond in a rivalry outing with a roster full of kids who had not been there before.

Aside from Cortez and Rios it’s a new rotation for Vela, but the Blue and Black was able to come back from a huge deficit, falling short at the end because North – with several kids who have ridden the rapids before – was sharper in the key moments. Jordan and Gaytan grabbed eight boards each and North had more balance: four players in double figures scoring, Jordan and Lesley Martinez netting 13 apiece, Villarreal (11) and Bri Martinez (10) also having solid offensive nights.

Neither team lit it up at the free-throw line, as Vela was 19 of 33, North 12 of 29. But with Haydee-Anna Garcia’s clutch stroke at the stripe, this one was in the books for the Lady Coogs.

NOTES: EHS began defense of a title with a 62-17 breeze against Econ, leading 44-3 at the half and getting 10 kids into the scorebook. The Lady Bobcats were to take on Vela on the road Tuesday with North at Southwest and the Lady Jags hosting P-SJ-A Memorial. Memorial suffered a close loss to Pharr North in the opener Friday while P-SJ-A clobbered Southwest by 23.

In closing volleyball notes, Cortez of Vela was named to the Monitor’s All-Area second team, while EHS’s Tianna Howard was a first-team pick.