It was just a great high school basketball game, that’s for sure. Econ went to EHS on the last day of the year and captured a huge win, beating the Bobcats 60-56 with some last-second defensive heroics, withstanding a 31-point, 12-rebound barrage from the wondrous Antoine Woodard.
The Jags led all the way after overcoming a 7-point hole after one period, as senior Saul Alanis (14 points, 14 rebounds) had a tremendous day and classmates Angel Salinas (17 points) and Johnny Barrientos (15) made the clutch plays to get their club off to a 2-0 start in District 31-6A. Perhaps the biggest such moment came with seven seconds left: Barrientos had motored downcourt to net a pull-up J from 10 feet to give the Jags a 58-56 advantage. Then, as EHS tried to inbound, Salinas foiled the pass, knocking it to Barrientos; two JB free throws later, it was game over, Econ in front.
“I really had been off the whole game,” said Barrientos, the team’s leading scorer at better than 17 ppg. “But in the third quarter, I told myself that if it was coming down to the wire, I was gonna make a shot.”
It did indeed come down to the wire, after an exciting and well-played contest between evenly matched units. The ‘Cats were excellent early on, as Woodard chunked in 10 points and gathered five boards in the first eight minutes. But the Jags came on, running off 14 straight between the late stages of the first and the mid-second, Alanis taking charge, literally and figuratively. The 6-foot-2 wing went down low for several scores, took a pair of charges, and cleaned the glass with ease, a great performance from a guy who has always had the potential to shine.
“I always do whatever helps the team win,” said Alanis, a soft-spoken fellow who has solid quickness and sure hands. “This year coach has been telling me that as a senior I am going to need to shoot the ball more, it’s my time. Really, I don’t mind rebounding, playing D, whatever, whatever can help us do well. My teammates always help me and I try to help them.”
Though Econ held the lead throughout the second half, Woodard and fellow senior Marc Figueroa kept the ‘Cats close. Woodward, shut out in the second period, erupted for 10 in the third, and he brought the ‘Cats to within 1 at 39-38 before Alanis answered with a stickback to end the third.
Figueroa, finishing with 13 points as the only other Bobcat in doubles, drove twice for scores in the fourth, a quarter in which there would be four ties. Salinas and Woodard provided fine theater with their one-on-one duels, each getting the better of an old friend and foe at several junctures. Salinas found Barrientos for a run-out basket to make it 54-51 but then Jerry Lopez of EHS bounced in a corner three to tie it with less than a minute to go.
Econ nudged ahead on a pair of free throws from Trini Moreno only to have Woodard come back down and knife through traffic for the 56-all knot. Then came the shot from Barrientos, Salinas with the defensive marvel, and Barrientos for two free throws to cap it.
“It was great to play in this game and come through,” said Salinas, who added that competing against such a fine athlete as Woodard made it even more exciting. “For awhile there we were going at it, Antoine is such a great player, we just tried to handle the pressure and stay calm.”
Coach Carlos Ramos was active in this one, using the breaks to counsel his club.
“I did call several timeouts in the fourth, because we needed to settle down,” said Ramos, who lauded the contribution of freshman Michael “M.J.” Barrientos, along with that of his trusty seniors. “It was going to be tough, coming over here, it always is. But I thought we played really well for the most part.”
Ramos noted that two years ago, Johnny Barrientos had more or less the same scenario at EHS, late in the night.
“That time he missed, but he was a sophomore,” Ramos said. “This time, I knew we were in good shape when he got some space and came down the floor. That shows what senior leadership is all about, Johnny nailed it.”
As for the excellence of Alanis, Ramos was equally laudatory.
“He was playing loose, which is what we want,” Ramos smiled. “I asked him today before the game, ‘Which Saul am I getting today?’ and he told me good news … ‘The good Saul.’ All the kids did well today and it’s a big win to get on the road.”
NOTES: The loss was distressing for the ‘Cats, who had begun the league slate with a solid win over North. After the Jag setback, they dropped to 1-2 with a defeat at Weslaco Friday. The Jags beat Weslaco East to go 3-0.
In the later game of the doubleheader Tuesday, the Lady Bobcats shredded the Lady Jags, 86-34 as Bri Sanchez collected 12 points and 14 rebounds. This set up EHS for the key early clash at Weslaco Friday, which it lost. Tuesday brings Vela-EHS and that one is always entertaining, on multiple levels.