It was one big bruise, and a loud one when Vela and EHS stepped in against one another Friday night. From the start, it was rough and contentious, with a huge crowd raising the roof, kids flying at each other and onto the floor, the kind of game that wasn’t going to see a bevy of points go up on the scoreboard.

With a tasty, nasty drumline rocking a distinctly martial feel all night, bro, you get me?

Playing at home and trying to hang onto third place in District 31-6A, the undermanned Bobcats battled, and scrapped, and trailed by only four until the SaberCats pulled away for a 45-35 victory.

Now 6-4 in league play, the ‘Cats competed without leading scorer Fermin Ramos, who returned to the team recently after being sidelined but appears to be a no-go for the rest of his senior season. Scoring was thus hard to come by and EHS was held to its league-low. Vela also scored its lowest total in nine games but rose to 8-1 based on its defense, which has now limited opponents to 40 or fewer five times in 31-6A.

This brawl was all heart and muscle, occasional skill, but Bobby Espericueta showed a little of everything, leading his team with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists. He was at his senior best in the fourth, getting 10 points and helping the Sabes go from a 35-31 lead onto a 10-4 run to end it. Sophomore Jacob Rodriguez had been the man in the third, when Vela slugged its way forward, with six points, four boards, and some good mobility. And senior Kaleb Coronado helped his club keep cool with a money three-ball midway through the fourth extending the lead to seven at 38-31. Michael Garcia continued to give quality minutes and is always a threat from long range.

At this stage, the ‘Cats, who lost for the second time in a row after four straight wins, tired out, and lack of depth began to show. But nobody can say that EHS left anything out on the court. In the first half, when they had led by as much seven, guys such as Markus Pena and Jerry Lopez were crashing, banging, and hustling like champs.

Junior Josh Gonzalez hit a couple of threes in the early going Friday and the home side was up three after one. Vela, with Espericueta driving and squaring up at the rim, achieved a 21-19 halftime advantage; Rodriguez, who had nine rebounds for the game, was active in the second while the lefty Lopez of EHS knocked in five points.

The third quarter was a frenzy, all around, with near fights, technical fouls, and the expected back-and-forth between rooter sections. Lopez hit a big three for the ‘Cats and John Carranco (eight points, 11 boards) came up with two of his five blocks. Gradually, Vela forged ahead with better team play, passing well and getting open to take shots. A fatigued Bobcat bunch tried to rally and worked to nine free-throw attempts in the final period, but made just five.

Now Vela stands atop the league with three games, left, with Weslaco at 8-2, EHS 6-4, and North coming up from behind at 5-4. The Coogs clipped Econ in overtime Friday, 57-52, and had to overcome a game-long deficit to do so. Ethan Garza was mammoth with 14 points and 10 boards while Ray de Leon led the Jags (3-7 and eliminated now) with 19 markers. With the clutch victory, Rudy Garcia’s club has clinched a playoff spot and will take aim at the Bobcats for the third seed. North will have to be sharp to do so, because the schedule favors EHS (Donna North and Weslaco East to finish) while the Coogs do battle with Weslaco, Vela, and then Donna North to close the slate. As for the playoffs to come, Los Fresnos is No. 1 in 32-6A with Harlingen and South fighting it out for the next slot, San Benito looking like a decent No. 4 chance.