By Greg Selber

Dec. 31, 2020

Click here for game photos

To be frank, there was never much of a doubt about Thursday’s home encounter with La Joya. Most folks figured that the Lady Bobcats’ first district matchup in more than two weeks could be a blowout considering the discrepancy between the two squads in terms of talent and success so far in 2020-21.

And a blowout it turned out to be, as EHS jetted to a 21-5 lead after a quarter against an outmanned Lady Coyote bunch struggling to stay out of the District 31-6A cellar. But for the Lady Bobcats (6-0 in district and 11-3 overall) the afternoon of work was way more important than just a single point on the standings curve. They’d been forced to sit out for a full two weeks recently due to COVID problems with opponents, so the La Joya game was the second shot out of a new box, following Tuesday’s narrow non-district triumph over visiting Rio Grande City.

“It’s hard to keep everyone motivated when we’re not playing games,” said Coach J.D. Salinas, whose team was idle after a win Dec. 15 over Pharr North was followed by postponements of two league chances. “Plus, it’s hard to keep motivated with all the distractions during the holidays. With no games to look forward to, it was difficult, but that’s just something we’ve had to deal with.”

The Lady Bobcats certainly dealt with La Joya Thursday, romping to a 67-39 victory behind steady play from their seniors and more contributions from the precocious freshman class, surely one of the best in town annals. A’nnika Saenz threw in three long ones and ended with 14 points, collecting 10 rebounds as well, while Daysha Tijerina led with 16 points, hitting a pair of threes. The youngsters were well represented in a game in which EHS never trailed, as Jenai Coleman (13 points, six of six from the floor) continued to show her all-around skill package in myriad ways.

A quarter-by-quarter recap of this one-sided affair is unnecessary. Over from the tip. Rather let us focus on snapshots from what amounted to a glorified practice session for a squad seeking to build back momentum after an untimely pause to the proceedings. 

Before the start at home, the PA announcer, in dulcet tones, suggested the Lady ‘Cats were “ready to rumble!” and the girls proved him prescient by hammering the offensive boards for two early stickbacks, from Coleman (averaging 10.6 rpg for the year) and Swiss Army Knife senior Julissah Santa Maria. In between, slender freshman Madie Martinez found Tijerina open for a look and the latter knocked down a trifecta. The Lady ‘Cats were off and gunning.

Running the break with quickness and precision, EHS got an outlet from Saenz to a streaking Martinez, who passed to Tijerina for a hoop. Salinas says that as Saenz plays her way back into tip-top shape after knee surgery, he has watched her assume a real leadership role on the court.

“She’s like having a coach out there, she knows exactly what we are doing, she understands everything so well,” he said. “A’nnika is gaining more playing confidence as she goes, and I can always count on her to know about subs, rotation, you name it. She is so knowledgeable about everything.”

And this is so, as the four-year veteran is the floor general par excellence this season. Even when she makes a rare mistake, Saenz is quick on the trigger to rectify. On one first period sequence she accidentally made the wrong call out front, but in mid-dribble corrected herself, pounding a fist to chest for the universal “my bad” signal and then marshaling the offense into the correct play.

Meanwhile, Coleman went to work with fierce determination. At one stage, she battled for a loose ball on the baseline, coming away with possession; although she ended up landing out of bounds, the play showed her tremendous strength as she simply ripped the ball away from a La Joya defender. Easy.

“She tough and she’s athletic,” said Salinas of his 5-9 Newcomer of the Year lock (write it down). “She doesn’t care who we are playing, she just competes hard on every play.”

As hard-nosed as Coleman is, classmate Martinez is as smooth and unflappable. She did not do much scoring Thursday, though she averages 10 ppg in district. Thing is, Martinez doesn’t have to put points in the hopper to have a huge impact on a game.

“Madie is so savvy, she really knows how to play the game,” her coach advised. “Sometimes with freshmen they get in there and want to do their own thing, they kind of go wild. But Madie understands the game, the spacing, she knows her role and is very composed.”

Yet another newcomer made her presence felt against La Joya, as Emily Carranco exhibited a solid passing touch on a number of sequences plus the ability to hit a shot. In the second period, Lucero Jimenez yanked down a board and found an advancing Martinez, who sped into the paint and spotted Carranco open for a feathery short jumper. 

At that point it was already history, but the Lady ‘Cats never relaxed, prowling the court and working on their cutting and passing. Carranco rose for a serious stuff of a La Joya shot in the third period and Saenz came down with the rock. After a slick behind-the-back dribble, she whipped a feed to Tijerina, who nailed the three-point shot. Then it was Coleman Time as she roared into the face of a Lady Coyote, on defense. When fellow freshman Kimora Fagan came up with the steal, Coleman raced the length of the floor to clean up an EHS miss with a follow shot.

On the next fast break opportunity, Carranco started the parade with a perfect bounce pass to a streaking Martinez, showing her ability to time the feed and hit a teammate in stride.

For the district season the Lady ‘Cats are scoring 69 points per outing and allowing just 35. The game before the unplanned break, a solid win over always tricky Pharr North, came without Tijerina, who was resting a sprained ankle. Tijerina (13.8 ppg in district) and the gutty Saenz (12.7) have each connected on 10 bombs in six games while Martinez and Coleman (11.3) can also stick it. 

The combination of senior talent and youthful ability has stood the team in golden stead as it seeks to capture yet another hardwood crown. In the Lady Raider bout, Coleman bulled her way to 20 rebounds; she and Martinez lead the team in steals so far and the former is first with 22 blocks. EHS nailed eight threes against La Joya and averages six makes a night in 31-6A, the signature example of long-range accuracy came with a whopping (and program-record) 14 treys in an earlier demolition of Econ.

Next up for the Lady ‘Cats is a key clash against the surprise five of the league, P-SJ-A, which comes at home Saturday. The Lady Bears are a one-loss unit right now, having been bested by a digit, 71-70 in OT against the Lady Raiders.Meanwhile, Vela is on the heels of those three schools, and rose to 5-3 in district with a win over Mission in its last outing, Tuesday. The next EHS-Vela brawl comes Jan. 15 with the Lady Sabes facing a vital showdown at Pharr North Jan. 5. 

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