Every game means something, but some are more vital than others, especially the all-important district matchups. So when North took the court Tuesday at home against Harlingen South, part of the team attention was probably on Friday’s pending 31-6A opener with ancient rival EHS.

The North-South tilt was going to be about perseverance, with two regulars down with the flu, another contributor suffering but expected to try and play, and a key starter sitting out. Facing those odds, the Coogs nearly pulled off the result, losing by 9 to a hot-shooting Hawk club despite having an 8-point lead at one early juncture.

“I told our guys I am proud of them because they worked hard, they played hard to the end,” said North coach Rudy Garcia, whose unit checked in at 15-9 overall for the Bobcat brawl after a 60-51 defeat. “That, and with some guys out we had a chance to get some others some playing time they don’t normally get. Bottom line, we worked tonight, and we are going to be ready for district play.”

The one constant for a depleted squad was junior Sergio Quintanilla, who doubled his average for a season-high 24 points, mainly on an assortment of powerful and acrobatic drives to the basket. When last year’s scoring ace, Andrew Nunez, returns from the sick bay, Garcia will have two knifing point producers to count on.

“He’s been doing that all year, even against San Antonio teams,” said Garcia of Quintanilla, who had eight right off the bat as North started well, leading 11-3 and then 16-13 at the end of one. “He can get to the basket and convert, just like Andrew.”

The rest of the group set in to work against South, showing some good moments intermittently. Junior Moises Garza hauled in nine rebounds and hit a couple of nice jumpers, and Garcia has high hopes for the 6-5 post.

“He has improved a lot since we started the season,” he noted. “And yes, he does have a good stroke, going forward we are trying to convince him he can become a bigger part of the offense.”

If North is going to defend its league title from a year ago, Garza and the other big, Juan Garza, will need to hit the boards and block some shots. Senior Juan Vazquez, who sat out the last two ball games but was set to return to action against EHS, gives the team another inside threat who can also play on the perimeter. The Coogs will bring some size to the district race, and perhaps the best depth of any of the contenders.

David Gutierrez is part of the deep rotation and against South he scored nine points, hitting one of North’s six three-pointers, and like many of the guards, he is small but fierce. Ethan Garcia and Aldo Reta see plenty of minutes in the backcourt and though neither brings much height, they can shoot it and will run the court and hustle on D.

North led 20-17 but then South went roaring away for a 31-23 halftime bulge. The Hawks were up 10 when the Coogs rallied behind Quintanilla, who put in 10 of the team’s 12 in the third quarter. Early in the fourth, it was 41-40, South, before the visitor steamed to 10 straight points.

“They couldn’t miss from the corner, they hit three threes and we just couldn’t stop them,” Garcia said. “But we did show fight, against the odds, and as I said, I am proud of them because they never quit playing.”

While EHS-North was the scheduled biggie in town for Friday, Vela was to begin district play Friday against Weslaco in a very early marquee tilt from 31-6A. The Panthers have been super hot as of late while the SaberCats continue to find the groove with a new coach on board. Garcia of North knows that with Weslaco over from 32-6A, there may be a fight for playoff life between the four city quintets. And one of them may take the ziggy.

“It’s going to be a tough game every night,” he stressed. “So we have to come ready to play no matter who it is. Games like tonight help develop our depth and experience.”

EHS defeated Mission Vets in overtime Tuesday, outscoring the Patriots by 10 in the extra session on the road. Antoine Woodard led the way with a career-high 36 points. Vela dropped a decision at Los Fresnos, 64-57, and Econ popped Juarez-Lincoln, 74-42.