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ROUNDBALL IS ON! PREVIEWING CITY HOOPS IN THIS RUSH-RUSH CAMPAIGN

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Nov. 27, 2020

By Greg Selber

It is anybody’s guess what will happen when the 2020-21 basketball season, abbreviated down to about two-thirds of its usual duration, is complete. But one can make some educated suggestions about what could transpire. 

The EHS girls might end up being the best team in town, either gender, comparatively speaking. But the early going has been murderous, schedule-wise. Off to a 3-3 start with losses against the two other girls’ powers, Weslaco and Harlingen, the Lady Bobcats are integrating a group of freshmen who could help make the difference as they look to defend a title. Saturday they lost a close one to Laredo United South, 58-54 in a rematch of last year’s third round playoff clash. EHS begins the district slog (already) with a road game at Juarez-Lincoln Tuesday.

Vela, long a playoff regular, has not had as many chances to get ready for district play, which starts Tuesday with a tough muster against Pharr North. But the Lady SaberCats certainly have the backcourt chops to make a go of it. After starting with the Lady Raiders, Vela is at La Joya Friday. They played Hidalgo Saturday.

Econ is a surprising 3-0 so far as it seeks to get back into the race after a few years in the hinterlands, as Mari Campos has a nice crew of sophomores to go with leading light Marsia Perez. Soph Dana Serna exploded for 26 points (five threes) in the opening victory against Mission Vets, and the Lady Jags have also beaten Brownsville Porter and Weslaco East. 

On the first night of league play Dec. 1 the Lady Jags welcome North to town and then travel to EHS Friday. North has also got some new faces along with trusty veterans, and also like Econ, has a hungry team wanting to vault back into the upper echelon. The Lady Cougars have Mission three days after the lid-lifter against The Orange.

The Raiders of P-SJ-A North are the best of the non-town teams in 31-6A, though P-SJ-A started the season with three wins, including one over Harlingen South, though the Lady Hawks are way down these days. La Joya and Juarez-Lincoln, probably Mission too, will have to hustle to gain a playoff spot and none of them have impressed so far.

DE LEON AND THE JAGS?

Looking for a favorite among the city boys? Again, a bit tough, but Econ certainly has one of the Valley’s most productive players in junior Rey de Leon. The springy de Leon scored 167 points in his first five games, including 34 in a victory over Pioneer and 39 in two other tries. Coach Carlos Ramos has some other veterans in house, such as M.J. Barrientos and Joel Rios. Econ, a downbeat 12-19 in 2019-20, is at 3-2 heading into chances versus Harlingen South (undefeated so far) and McAllen before league play starts Dec. 8 on the road at P-SJ-A. The Jags lost a narrow one Saturday at home to Weslaco, 59-54, with de Leon hitting for 39 points (15 of 21 from the free throw line, he’s gone to the line 58 times in five outings).

Last year was terrific for Vela, a three-deep playoff resulting after a slow start. This time the SaberCats are just 2-4 so far, having graduated four fine seniors. Saturday the Sabes outlasted Brownsville Hanna at home thanks to some home-run shooting from Jayden Rodriguez, Tony Requena, and Aiden Avelar and hustle plays from a number of kids looking to break into the rotation, such as post Roland Rodriguez.

Coach Lucio Rodriguez takes his charges to Brownsville Vets and Los Fresnos starting Tuesday and will kick off the 31-6A slate with a road game at North Dec. 8 followed by another city clash, Friday at home against EHS. 

Vela suffered extreme graduation losses, and so did the Bobcats, as they said farewell to seven of their top eight scorers. The returner of note, Josh Gonzalez, is involved with football right now, so EHS is basically a brand-new club out there. The ‘Cats next battle at Brownsville Rivera and then at home against Porter, and league work arrives for them Dec. 8 against Mission. Last year Zeke Cuellar guided his senior-laden squad to 19 wins and a playoff berth.

Unlike its rivals, North has a crew of kids who played significant roles last season when the Coogs made the playoffs. Only Sergio Quintanilla and Ethan Garcia are gone from that solid squad and Coach Rudy Garcia can call upon eight veterans for the latest run, including athletic Ethan Garza up front. The Coogs are at 2-2 heading into Tuesday’s final warmup at Edcouch-Elsa. They defeated Palmview and Pioneer and dropped decisions against McAllen Rowe and Laredo Alexander. The Dec. 8 starter against Vela should be entertaining; Friday of that week, the Coogs get Pharr North on the road.

The Raiders may be a bit light after a few solid seasons, amid a coaching change after the departure of long-time mentor Jaime Gongora. Their city mates, the Bears of P-SJ-A, are just 2-5 this year but did manage an upset win over Rowe. Neither Lincoln nor Mission is expected to vie for the title, but La Joya has shown quality in the first stages with a series of victories. The Coyotes of Coach Eric Montalvo have defeated Harlingen, San Perlita and Santa Rosa among others, and that is a roll call of Valley perennials. 

As the preview suggests, no one has had a chance to follow the usual fall progression through scrimmages and tournaments into district play after 10 to 15 ball games. What that means for the races is this: gelling quickly will be a must, because there is no time to lose. All the kinks and hiccups need to be dispatched with speed, because district play arrives this season with some teams barely having been able to locate the balls and rebounding machine, much less whip themselves into proper shape physically or mentally. The prediction here is for wacky nights ahead, copious amounts of upsets, and hopefully tons of fun for local observers of the hardwood heroes.

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