Jan. 22, 2021

By Greg Selber

Click here for game photos

Chances are, Carlos Ramos would have made a great race car driver, because he’s good at pushing his kids, letting up, pushing again. Though the Econ coach can rumble and grumble in his gravelly bear voice, he is also adept at knowing when praise is called for. Friday night at home, with the Jags needing a victory to regain some momentum in the 31-6A race, Ramos had plenty of opportunities to show his four-wheel drive coaching style.

He had nothing but props for the way his team passed the basketball against Mission, as his guys practiced patience against the zone and worked the give-and-go with an excellence that would have made the old-timers proud. But he was also given an occasional opening to get after his charges, as they missed five layups in the first half. Econ should have been up 15 by the break but led by just three due to blown chippies and a Mission hot streak from downtown.

“I guess I am a hard-core guy, a pessimist, whatever,” said Ramos, after the Jags had risen to 8-3 in district with a 66-50 triumph. “But I did tell them, hey, very proud of you for some of the things you did tonight. Thing is, if we play the way we did at times tonight, I know we can beat anybody … and I mean, anybody.”

Econ was the leader of the pack at 5-0 during the first portion of the league schedule, with junior phenom Ray de Leon leading the Valley in scoring. When a slow stretch (two wins in five starts) brought Ramos’ gang back to earth a bit, they were in need of a solid performance at home to reassert themselves. The last outing, an overtime loss to suddenly dangerous P-SJ-A, had to be put to bed against the Eagles, a smallish club that is trundling along within range of a fourth playoff spot, nothing more.

And as Ramos gunned it, throttled back, and then hammered the gearshift again, the Jags responded well. They got off to a wow start and the way they did it is exactly what Ramos has been calling for.

“When it’s all Ray, we struggle, because no matter how good he is, we need more,” he commented. “When we get three guys scoring, we’re alright, Ray is going to get his, now who else is going to chip in? That’s what we have been asking.”

Friday, with the wondrous de Leon on his way to 35 points, only six above his striking average – and four off his season best of 39, done twice – it was time for junior M.J. Barrientos to shine, too. The last iteration from a timeless and sublime family lineage, Barrientos has been from his freshman season a strong ball-handler and defender. Ramos and his staff have been waiting for the 6-footer to find his sea legs on the offensive end. He’s averaged 10 ppg in 2020-21, at times promising the sort of attacking flair displayed by his brothers, J.B. and Johnny, both ex program stars. He already has the defensive heart of ferocious sister Blanca, let it be said.

Against Mission, Barrientos was mint, finishing with 19 points to tie a season high set earlier against P-SJ-A. While the offensive production was much appreciated, M.J. set the tone early on by pulling down three rebounds and starting the Orange break. At the other end, junior Joel Rios was smooth with a couple of three-point makes from the right corner as Econ zoomed to a 10-point lead after four minutes.

Another member of the supporting cast that Ramos has been counting on is junior Orly Martinez and it was his fast feed to a running Barrientos that set the team up at 14-4. The pogo stick Martinez would go on to block five shots and his leaping lay-in made it 19-7, as he elevated at the rim from the right side, looking like he might flush it home before lefty-laying it off the board and in from a somewhat acute angle.

The Jags were high-flying for the reals, but then started to encounter problems with the Mission press and failed on the aforementioned easy shots, allowing the Eagles to creep back in; they cut the margin to 29-26 by halftime.

Every squad is going to have its down periods, and Ramos just wants the Jags to stay cool, correct mistakes, and come back out swinging. That is what they did in the third as de Leon kept driving and converting, Barrientos performed like an all-star, and from 33-28, the Jags raced away with the game, cruising to a 49-34 lead after three.

Martinez had begun the third with a skying drive, putting back in his own miss with a springy leap, quicker than any defender around him. De leon twisted in for a dipsy doo score and then Martinez found Rios open, leading to free throws. Ramos knows what he has in Rios, junior Dalys Hernandez, and other role players. He needs them to do what they do, consistently.

“Dalys is a hustler, defensive guy, he moves well,” said the coach. “Joel is a streaky shooter and when he’s on, he might stay on. We have some guys who see the floor and play the game and we need them, because like I say, it has to be more than just Ray out there.”

Still, “just Ray” is pretty freakin’ dope, yawl. Putting the ball on the floor and waiting for a slice, he can explode in an instant and has the strength to bull through defenders en route to a sweet, leaping finish. Shooting an otherworldly 64 percent from the floor for the season, de Leon also works hard on defense, and he picked up a number of steals against Mission, one leading to an open court rush and slam.

On one drive in the third, he dribbled and sped  through two Eagles and made a difficult shot, and-one, with the ball settling into the net and coming to rest on the face/chest of a Mission player who had fallen onto his back while trying to stay with the Econ leader. Cold, man, cold. Take that, suckah!

The final basket of the period came from Barrientos, who attacked the rim and executed a swell up-and-under shot for a three-point play, the old-style way. M.J led the team with 10 boards Friday, too.

From there it was all Jags as Mission flagged noticeably, Martinez rose for another swat, and Rios sweated hard on D to produce a 5-second call. It was 62-37 when the subs came in, and the Eagles rallied a little. But Econ tucked this one away in preparation for a challenge against Vela next week. The game was supposed to be Tuesday but these days, nothing is as it seems, so the Jags-Sabes matchup will come on Canton either Wednesday or Thursday, stay tuned.

With the result, Ramos and Co. stayed in range of first place La Joya, and right with Pharr North and Edinburg North, as the 31-6A scramble continues. It’s been a hot one so far, and it ain’t even close to over. After Vela, the Orange must tackle La Joya, Pharr North, and the Cougars, among others in the 16-game marathon.

“We just want to get in, making the playoffs is always special over here,” said Ramos afterward. “Not saying we can’t win it, but we just want to be playing well now, get into the postseason, and see how far we can go.”

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