It was definitely a downer Friday night from a hoops fan’s outlook, as both boys’ and girls’ summer championship games began roughly at 7:30, in the Viper Lair.
This meant that those with a stake in watching each title tilt had to either pick a game or try for a standing position on the margins, perched between the games going on simultaneously, side by side though separated by a curtain.
Those who picked the boys’ match got to see Vela rally from a 9-point halftime deficit to outlast Pioneer, 50-42. Austin Garza started the comeback for the Sabes with a resounding blocked shot and three-pointer, and from there nature asserted itself as Josh Diaz came alive and Noah Sekinger dominated the inside. This is the recipe for success that Vela moves forward with; that, and a deep roster of talented kids ready to take their shot at another outstanding basketball season.
One prominent member of the cast will be Kaleb Coronado, whose outside touch and improving defense and passing will help. Twin little rocks Nate Gomez and Matt Arteaga will also be part of the drill, along with Jordan de la Rosa, and those three hustlers make a nice complement to the offensive exploits of Sekinger, Diaz, and Coronado.
Azael Garcia has shown he can stick it in bunches, as he did during the tail end of last season’s run to the area round, meaning Vela will have shooters, defensive demons, and a big man in Sekinger who has the potential to be an All-Valley performer in his senior season. He slimmed down and got quicker this summer, showing some nasty spin moves from the post-up game.
Vela met and vanquished all comers in the summer, following a successful spring run through the tournament circuit. As it stands, this team should be one of the Valley’s best as it gets set for a new district including the perennially strong Weslaco Panthers, along with North, EHS, and Econ.
Friday the Sabes faced down a pretty dangerous Pioneer club, staying calm when things did not go swimmingly in the first half, and after Sekinger plunked in a free throw in the waning seconds, the summer conquest was complete,
A game before, North was kicking along in range against Pioneer Wednesday until losing star Andrew Nunez, who took a shot to the face. The Coogs, who had played solid ball most of the summer, did well against the Diamondbacks – surprise winners over McAllen earlier in the week – but expired a step away from the final.
The other semi had barnburner written all over it as Vela outlasted Econ, 58-56. The Jags, fresh off an overtime victory over P-SJ-A, got a tremendous first half from Johnny Barrientos, who pumped in 17 points and passed and dribbled like an all-star. For Vela, Sekinger was unstoppable on his way to a game-high 27 points, with the Sabes leading most of the way.
Econ, working without absent forward Saul Alanis, caught up toward the end of the third of a back-and-forth, well-played night, and was up 1 after three. The Orange last led, 48-47 before J.D. Velasquez and Sekinger worked the pick-and-roll to perfection.
Bobby Espericueta knocked in a huge three at the 2:40 mark for a 5-point edge and despite two outrageous bombs from Angel Salinas late in the game, Vela moved on with the narrow margin after the Jags missed a last-second toss from 30 feet out.
Lucio Rodriguez watched the tournament last week with more than the usual excitement. The former EHS All-Valley guard was named Vela’s head coach Tuesday, replacing the departed David Keith after having been an assistant under him last season. For Rodriguez, 30, it’s been one wild year as he has completed a master’s degree, welcomed his first child to the world in tandem with wife Sarah (formerly Salazar, the ex EHS star athlete) and now this. Good things come in threes.
EARLY ROUND ACTION
After a win against Idea Quest, EHS went to war against North Tuesday, dropping out of the tournament after a battle royale against its old rival. Tempers flared intermittently during the 41-34 North win, and the physicality was extreme throughout.
Standing out in the victory was Nunez, who looks superbly conditioned this summer and appears to have added some strength as well. Fearless and aggressive as always, the senior wing got the Coogs off to an 8-0 start with a drive, a follow, and a bomb, and at the end of one it was 12-3.
EHS, still learning roles and rotation with graduation losses to fill, got back into it as the half neared completion, as Josh Gonzalez outside and Devin Everett inside made nice contributions. EHS got to within four on a pass inside for two from Ricky Alaniz but Nunez closed the half with another three-ball and a sweet leaping tip-in at the buzzer for a 22-13 lead.
Gonzalez knocked in a trey to start the third while Everett and John Carranco held their own down low against the taller North five. Everett’s drive cut the deficit to three but Juan Vazquez tossed in a very difficult layup off balance and Nunez then drove for the rack, leaning way, way back and hanging in the air, drawing a foul, making the layup, and adding the free throw. The guy can be a 20-point scorer in the fall, believe it.
Still, EHS kept coming, cutting into the margin until it was doable, at 38-34. But the ‘Cats failed to take advantage of a North turnover, missing a poor shot attempt at the other end inside the final minute. Nunez, who had 21 of his team’s 41, capped it with a drive and a free throw for the final count.