By Greg Selber
Jan. 5, 2021Click here for game photos
Each of the squads had their demons to confront Tuesday, obstacles which threatened to scuttle the effort as Econ and North engaged in a girls’ basketball collision at North. And each did its dead-level best to surmount trials and tribulations and gain an important District 31-6A victory.
The problem for the Lady Jags was apparent as they lined up for the National Anthem: a thin line of just six girls dressed out for action. No fewer than three have been sidelined by COVID quarantine, though thankfully none are positive. But this meant that Econ went to war Tuesday with almost as many coaches (four) as players. Now that’s an obstacle.
North’s trouble was not depth but consistency, as in recent outings the Lady Cougars have gotten off to poor starts, rebounding for a way better effort after the break.
That was the subtext and the game itself played out according to form. North was slow out of the box against a Lady Jag group that ran the court, passed crisply, and assumed a 16-5 lead late in the first. From there, the home squad woke up, started wearing down the opponent, and eventually jumped into the clear.
Sophomore Zoey Gaytan had a vital hand in the 45-39 win with a pair of three-point shots and several steals as the Lady Coog defense clamped down on a tiring Orange contingent to win for the second time against five league losses.
Coach Jenny Garcia’s club had been down big against La Joya earlier in the slate before getting it together to make it a close loss. Here it was able to weather the initial Econ storm and benefit from a number of solid performances in clinching the result, twinned with a 37-34 victory over the Lady Jags in the league opener out east, Dec. 1.
“We had to come back again because we came out flat for some reason,” she said. “Right now, we’re in the middle of a stretch where we have three games a week for a few weeks, and the girls are going to get tired legs sometimes. We have a bunch of sophomores, only two seniors, but I can see that in time we can be a really good team.”
The seniors were money for Garcia against Econ as Odalys Luna had eight points and five rebounds and classmate Sariah Garza was outstanding with 13 points, 10 boards. After the Lady Jags (1-8 in district) ran out to the advantage behind six from sophomore Dana Serna and four from spirited soph Jaylene Corona, North got busy, Garza ending the first half with 10 points and six boards and Gaytan (11 points for the game), running the show out front like her sister Miranda used to do.
Down seven at the end of one, the Lady Coogs had steadily climbed back in and when Gaytan nailed a long J it was just 21-20, Econ. Garza and Gaytan worked the two-man fast break passing game for a layup at the buzzer for a 24-23 North lead which would hold up the rest of the way.
With the Lady Jags struggling to stay afloat, North turned up the intensity on D after halftime, led by soph Sam Aguilar, who kept track of the taller Serna (12.1 ppg) pretty well with quickness and hustle. Minus leading scorer Jasmine Loredo (13.7 ppg), Econ was looking for offensive help, and it came from Corona, who rolled to a fine night (13 points, 13 boards) and refused to budge an inch. Soph Bianca Coronado, younger sister of recently graduated Vela star Kaleb Coronado, also turned in a creditable night of toil against the odds, as did soph Eida Aguirre.
The Lady Jags did not sub until the end of the first half, leaving the survivors to work through weariness and try to pull off the W. Aguirre blasted in for a layup and subsequent free throw down the stretch to cut the margin to 5 at 43-38, but two Gaytan free throws sealed the deal.
Coach Mari Campos of Econ was as always undaunted by the hills she and her team have had to negotiate.
“It’s a long season and to be down to six, well, it wasn’t ideal,” she said. “But I say, if we have five, we’re gonna play. Tonight we had a lot of good intensity early until we got fatigued somewhat. We just didn’t have fresh legs to put in there and it hurt us. But these girls are tough, and I know they will give it all out there for us. The thing is, we get all these kids back for next year, and games like this show their toughness and desire to compete.”
Econ’s lack of depth probably had something to do with the fact that it made just nine of 21 from the free throw line and did not make a three all night. Fatigue attacks the legs, which affects the shot. Any observer could see, though, that weary pins did not alter the team’s emotional will to get after it. Junior Marsia Perez, younger sister of program great Sylvia Perez – who attended Tuesday – was everywhere against North, fighting for the ball and finding open teammates. She scored seven points with five boards as the Lady Jags secured a plus-4 in rebounding. Campos praised the play of Aguirre, whom she says never misses a practice and is a tremendous student in the classroom.
“She works very hard and when you show her something, she learns it fast, and does what we ask,” Campos commented.
In essence, for North, the seniors came through, the greyhound Aguilar paced the defensive charge, and soph Jayli Rivera, a promising youngster with pep in her step, tossed in three jumpers. Yet another soph, Briseidy Lerma, crazy hustled during her minutes, at one stage racing back downcourt from an offensive possession to break up a Lady Jag fast break chance after a turnover. That kind of want-to was the theme of this one, really, as the schools are trying to manage a comeback into the league race after subpar beginnings. With nine teams in 31-6A, that means 16 league contests, so no one is eliminated yet. The Lady Jags and Lady Coogs went at it Tuesday like teams that want to get on a hot streak and have something legit to say about the playoffs.
Satisfying if at times uneven performance by the city rivals.