Zeke Cuellar says that his EHS kids have done a nice job holding down the fort during the early stages of the latest hoops season, and lately he’s got a big boost from the return of three athletes off the playoff-worthy football squad. Antoine Woodard, Matt Cruz, and Ricky Alaniz are working their way back into hardwood shape, so Cuellar notes that the hopeful run to another playoff spot can begin in earnest.
“Those guys were in football and so we knew we would have to struggle without them for a while,” said the veteran coach, whose team launched to 6-2 for the year with a victory at home over Brownsville Rivera Tuesday. “We just figured we’d do it like last year, working our way up from the bottom and eventually get to where we need to be.”
Guys like Markus Pena have chipped in during the interim, and Cuellar says that Pena might be the hardest worker on the roster.
“He’ll get after it, especially on defense,” said the coach, whose crew blasted through the Raiders Tuesday, 51-39. “We’ve had a number of kids who have enabled us to hang in there. Marc Anthony [Figueroa, senior guard) has been doing a good job at the point, distributing the ball. Now with Matt and Ricky back – and of course, Antoine – we have some depth in the backcourt.”
There’s no question that without Woodard, the four-year standout, the Bobcats were not at full strength. The skywalking senior led the way with 15 points and nine rebounds against Rivera, throwing down a wicked slam in the final minute of play. Early on, he paced a long-range clinic from the ‘Cats, who connected on six three-point shots in the first half to lead, 29-15 at the break. Fermin Ramos, an experienced sub from last year, tossed in three bombs and the team made 10 for the night, to one for Rivera.
Minus graduated post Jesus Cantu, the ‘Cats were outrebounded by eight, with the leading board man, the 6-4 Woodard, working part-time on the perimeter, part-time inside.
And that is going to be the story for this year’s club, a guard-heavy group with John Carranco the only seasoned inside kid. Jorge Hernandez, who was impressive in the summer, gives the ‘Cats a hustling presence when he’s out there, especially while Cruz and Alaniz are coming off injuries from football.
EHS appears to have more depth off the bench than in many seasons, and Cuellar knows that in a stacked 31-6A list – the four city quintets plus new foe Weslaco – that might come in handy.
“It looks like it’s going to be some race, and it may be that one of the teams in town might not make it,” he said. “Because Weslaco is always a really dangerous team. We just need to get our lineup and rotation set, and continue to improve, every game.”
Rivera came out ready to work, and led in the first period before Hernandez knocked in a three off a feed from Figueroa. Later, Alaniz sank a triple with a sweet pass from Woodard, who can do it all at both ends of the floor. Woodard rose for a 3 to make it 18-7 late in the first, and EHS was never seriously troubled after that, though Rivera crept to within 7 late in the game.