This one had implications, as they say, especially for EHS, seeking to keep a hold on a share of the 31-6A title along with Weslaco. The Vela girls, meanwhile, have been a steady third during most of the league season and at 7-3 coming into 9-1 for EHS, well, it was unlikely that their seed was going to change. The Lady SaberCats came to campus with another motive, which is an eternal one across the sports: beat the Bobcats.
The overarching EHS mantra can be summed as well: beat Vela, and so the two teams strode forth for the latest rivalry encounter Friday. The first half was excellent as the Lady Sabes got on the boards, particularly when Lady ‘Cat post-Bri Sanchez exited with her second foul. With slender yet fierce senior Kameryn Casares collecting five rebounds in the second quarter, Vela – which had led early before a late first period rush from the Lady ‘Cats – kept close to the defending champs. Junior Dylan Cantu did her part with active drives and visits to her second home, the free-throw line, and speedy Lauren Vega was breaking some ankles, as she is wont to do.
So it was looking pretty promising, just 28-25 EHS at the half, until the third quarter came, and went, without a single point from Vela. The Lady ‘Cats, rising to 32-3 for the season, never panicked in the face of a strong effort from their rival for a half. They just kept playing, shutting down the visitor, and continuing to do their thing.
Senior Leslie Martinez, who had a great night with 11 points, seven boards, and six dimes, said that intensity was a factor in the win. After being honored on Senior Night along with three others, she opined.
“The defense I think was what did it, we really stepped up and started playing harder,” said the North transfer, who has moved back to her more familiar role out front after a profitable sojourn down low with the trees. “We really crashed the boards in the second half, got some second-chance opportunities.”
After the injury to A’nnika Saenz at the 20-game mark, EHS has had to adjust and the key move has been for Martinez to re-assume the ball-handling chores she fielded so well in two years at North.
“I knew I had to step up and get used to that position again,” said Martinez, who dribbles head up with eyes blazing on every possession. “It was really sad when A’nnika got hurt, but I guess it gave me a chance to get back to guard.”
Another kid who has found herself in new roles is junior Julissa Santa Maria, and as with Martinez, this switch has worked, with Santa Maria using her leaping ability and toughness to spend time at the four. Coach J.D Salinas said that the third sister of the clan has been a real catalyst lately, scoring in double figures consistently and in the Vela game, she did it again. After a slow start, Santa Maria ended with a dozen points, 10 in the second half, as EHS turned that three-point halftime lead into a 36-25 bulge after three.
All the while, as Martinez and Santa Maria, toiled away, there was junior Daysha Tijerina. And she was excellent, jetting to 23 points by hitting a trio of three-pointers and slashing to the rim for buckets. No longer dependent solely on the long shot, Tijerina has become a dynamic and versatile offensive force, and when she gets to the free-throw line, count it; she shoots a terrific 89 percent from the stripe with Martinez at 80 for a unit that connects on an impressive 68 percent of its tries, a mark better than most boys’ teams in the Valley. Sanchez, despite sitting out for a while, keyed the D in the second half, finishing with 12 rebounds and six blocks.
Now that the playoffs are on the horizon, EHS is ready to make a deep run once again, despite the fact that Saenz has become an assistant coach these days. Martinez said that no matter what happens, the girls are going to come to work every day and get after it.
“We’re not really worried about it,” she said of the potential seeding tie with Weslaco. “One game at a time, take it slow, that’s where we’re at.”
Right now, a championship finish would net a bi-district match with 32-6A fourth seed Brownsville Hanna, a second-place finish drawing No. 3 Harlingen South. EHS closes with Donna North and a win there would tie the program record for victories, set last year as the team went to the Sweet 16. Vela looks forward to a probable first-round task against Los Fresnos, who will finish second to Harlingen, which has clinched the crown.