There they go again, working deep into the state basketball playoffs.
Looking for a return to the Rare Air, the SaberCats are two-thirds of the way thereafter a pair of postseason triumphs, and only Los Fresnos stands in the way of back-to-back trips to the regional round. The big game is Tuesday at Bert Ogden Arena, 7 p.m.
Here is the path so far: in bi-district, Vela defeated a surprisingly pesky San Benito club, 68-61, to advance to area. There, the SaberCats locked horns with Laredo Nixon Friday in Alice, winning 61-58 in OT. In the first round, seniors Austin Garza and Bobby Espericueta got a dozen points each, classmate Kaleb Coronado adding 11.
Now it’s a regional quarterfinal against Los Fresnos, probably the Valley’s top team for the season. The Falcons advanced to 32-3 by beating Laredo Alexander by 3 Friday, after having whipped Edinburg North in bi-district. This season the Falcons have scored 20 victories against playoff teams and averaged 66.5 ppg so far; they defeated the SaberCats in early December at their own Tournament of Champions. The final was 56-54 with Vela rallying from a 13-point deficit after a quarter.
Los Fresnos has some size with power forward Luis Gonzalez (11.8 ppg, 5.3 RPG) and 6-4 Ricky Altamirano (16.0/7.9), both seniors. Swingman Elian Gonzalez, also a senior, averages 12.7 and 6.5; he’s shot 73 percent from the free-throw line and paces this talented squad with 136 assists and 130 steals. Freshman sensation Gerry Martinez leads the way with 16.5 ppg from a guard slot.
If Vela wants to duplicate last year’s trip to the regional round, it will take a monumental effort against a highly touted opponent. But a thrilling extra-session versus a 30-win Nixon outfit should push Coach Lucio Rodriguez’ squad into the showdown with serious momentum.
EHS GIRLS’ RUN ENDS IN REGIONAL QUARTERS; TEAM SETS CITY RECORD WITH 36 WINS
Their season came to an end a step before the Sweet 16, but the Lady Bobcats can put the balls away knowing that they won more games in 2019-20 than any other quintet in city history, girls or boys.
J.D. Salinas led EHS to 36 victories and achieved a consistent state ranking, and the Lady ‘Cats streamed through two playoff opponents before losing to Laredo United South in the regional quarterfinals last week. The setback meant that the team did not get to repeat last season’s run to the regional round, but considering the adversity faced this time around, it is no shame. Losing leading scorer A’nnika Saenz to knee surgery prior to the district slate, the Lady ‘Cats nonetheless ended up tied for the title with Weslaco, subsequently defeating the Pantherettes in the seeding match to gain first slot.
They clobbered Brownsville Hanna and beat Laredo Alexander to reach the third round, but an uncharacteristically poor shooting night (29 percent from the floor, one for eight from three-point range) was deadly against the upstart Lady Panthers out in Zapata.
Looking ahead, EHS returns a great pair of seniors-to-be in Julissah Santa Maria and Daysha Tijerina and is hoping that Saenz can once again regain her outstanding form after rehabilitation. Graduation losses will include 6-2 Bri Sanchez plus tough and versatile Leslie Martinez, but the program has a quartet of freshmen-to-be, talented kids who are highly touted and will certainly get the chance to contribute right away.
BOBCATS CLAIM PLAYOFF W BEFORE BOWING OUT
Leave it to Zeke Cuellar to make the most of any situation.
Like the girls’ program this season, the Bobcats have faced their share of obstacles – including the loss of their leading scorer – but managed to nab a postseason victory over Harlingen last week, beating the Cardinals by 10 on Tuesday. The playoff run came to an end Friday against Laredo United, an ancient rival.
John Carranco led the way against Harlingen with 17 points, junior Josh Gonzalez chipping in another dozen,. Cuellar turned back the clock with some defensive schemes last seen in the glory days of the Fab Four and flummoxed a dangerous Cardinal club, holding it to just 41 points in bi-district.
As stated, North went out in bi-district last week, losing to 32-6A champ Los Fresnos, as Sergio Quintanilla scored 15 points in his final Cougar appearance and junior Aaron Gonzalez threw in 11.