Early in the third period, down 10 at EHS Tuesday with their senior point guard sidelined with a possible concussion, things were looking rather dicey for the SaberCats. Who was going to step up to try and save the day?
Answer: about every kid in Blue and Black who found the court did something right, and the result was a mammoth 16-6 Vela run which sent the team onward to a 57-44 victory. From the Lil Things duo of Austin Garza and Kaleb Coronado to the Mighty Mite tandem of Matt Arteaga and Nate Gomez, the Sabes picked it up on defense, started making some shots, and were able to body punch a suddenly sagging Bobcat crew to the canvas for good.
“I was proud of us tonight because we faced some problems and the guys all came through, they stepped up when they had to,” said Coach Lucio Rodriguez, who won in his first district try versus his alma mater. “They all grew some tonight, it was good to see, very important for them to do what they did.”
Rodriguez prowled the sidelines opposite his mentor, Zeke Cuellar of EHS, and watched as the Bobcats amassed a 4-point halftime lead. Antoine Woodard converted an impossible leaning 25-footer at 0:01 – capping a half in which he went off for 15 points – by running headlong into the lockers, his buoyant team following close behind.
The Sabes, meanwhile, faced the second half ahead without Diaz, who was mint in the first period with nine points and some fine assists; he got knocked out during the second quarter and would not return. Fellow senior Noah Sekinger, Vela’s leading scorer and rebounder, had been awfully quiet the first 16 minutes with two points and two boards.
It got worse, as Ricky Alaniz canned a 3 for EHS to start the third off a feed from Matt Cruz, and Cruz then came back and knocked in his own triple: it was 33-23 two minutes in. The Sabes blew two layups during that stretch.
Time to get after it. Or else.
Gomez got things started with a run-out hoop and then Bobby Espericueta made a couple of free throws. Sekinger leapt for a steal and found Garza cruising in for a deuce and then Garza, part of the defensive lockdown in progress, made a steal. Sekinger barged in for an offensive board and made one of two free tosses, and Garza goaded Woodard into an offensive foul. Coming.
A 16-6 run was well under way and when Espericueta sailed in a beautiful bomb, Vela had erased the deficit at 1:03 of the third. The Sabes led by 2 at the end of three and then outplayed EHS down the stretch to rise to 3-1 in district, EHS falling to 1-3.
“We relied on chemistry, four juniors who had to step it up,” said Garza, who had nine points and acted as a rover on D to help contain Woodard, who finished with 22 points, just seven after the intermission. “We tried several defenses to deal with Antoine, Matt was in front and I would come over to help. Coach fired us up at halftime and we just came out and played way better.”
Sekinger, who finished fast with seven of his 12 points in a dominant Vela fourth period, said he knew what was coming all along.
“I wasn’t worried, not much anyway,” said the articulate 6-5 senior post. “We just had to settle in and start doing it. It all came down to defense, which it usually does for us, when we decided to get after it on D everything started to take shape. We chipped away real well and everyone stepped up tonight when they had to.”
For a portion early, EHS post John Carranco provided a lift for his club with a three-ball and seven points in the first period. Woodard sank three long ones in the half as EHS made five from beyond the arc. But gradually, Vela’s superior depth told the tale – the ‘Cats were down a starter as Marc Figueroa sat out with an ankle sprain. There was also an edge in aggression leading to 24 free throw attempts to just 11 for the Bobcats.
The ‘Cats scored fewer points in each successive quarter, going from 15 and 12 in the first half to just 10 and seven after the break. The Sabes got stronger as the night went on, and salted away the 13-point margin. Previously EHS had lost by 4 to Econ and 3 in OT to Weslaco, so Tuesday’s result put the club in the midst of a three-game losing streak.
NOTES: The ‘Cats (2-3) destroyed Donna North Friday, winning by 40, and went into the week a half-game up on the Coogs, who dropped a 10-point decision to Weslaco to fall to 1-3. EHS plays at East Tuesday and then draws the bye, in anticipation of a huge week to come: Jan. 22 against North and Jan. 25 versus Econ, which is 4-0 right now. North is at Vela Tuesday and then has Donna North Friday.
Former SaberCat Ryan Garza has become a key part of the effort at St. Edwards as a sophomore. Last year he played in 30 games, averaging 3.2 ppg, but this season he’s averaging 7.6 ppg in 17.6 minutes for a 13-1 team ranked in the national top 15. Garza had a best night of 17 points in early January, hitting four of six three-pointers, and ranks second on the team in threes with 26.