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CLOSE FOR A HALF: VELA USES 15-0 RUSH TO CLOBBER NORTH BY 23 ON THE ROAD IN LEAGUE OPENER

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December 14, 2021

By Greg Selber

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The stage seemed set for a down-to-the-wire Rivalry Game for the league opener Tuesday, as North came in 12-7, Vela 14-6, the teams having played to a 1-point decision at the La Joya Tournament back in November. Aside from that, the teams shared five common opponents, each having beaten Palmview and P-SJ-A, both having lost against a tough Pace squad. The only difference was also a split: North beat Pioneer while Vela was defeated by the Diamondbacks and conversely, the SaberCats had taken out Rowe, North had not.

That’s how even it seemed on paper as a gigantic crowd at North waited for the 6 p.m. tip, this game being the first of the annual doubleheader scheduling package that has resumed with the advent of District 31-6A play for the boys. And for the first two quarters it was indeed a close-run thing, the Sabes getting out to 10-point lead before North whittled away and trailed by just 2 at the break.

Then, Krakatoa, a massive eruption as Vela slammed to 15 straight points to start the third quarter en route a 64-41 domination that had the Blue and Black hollering the “yeeeahhhh!!” cheer throughout. Outscoring the Coogs 36-15 in the second half, Vela started the league slog in style, and the seniors were outstanding.

Aidan Avelar, bulked up this season after yeoman’s training in the gym, led the way with 16 points and he was masterful in the 15-0 run, ending the period with 10 points, a couple of bombs. Jacob Rodriguez (12 points) and Tony Requena (15) were equally effective, combining for 12 rebounds to give the Sabes a plus-15 on the glass. Fellow senior Alex Mancillas was terrific in his usual understated way, and with North big man Eddie Gonzalez (12 points, 10 rebounds) in foul trouble much of the night, the Sabes just cruised to the W.

The Coogs, who had fought back from a 17-point deficit to beat Pioneer in overtime in its last action, got 18 points from junior Cristian Faz and the dozen from Gonzales, but no one else sniffed double figures; the attack bogged down against the hustling Sabes. In fact, North had a whale of a time getting into offensive sets because the Vela press was withering, including a halfcourt trap that at one stage in the third led to three straight steals and layups, the Coogs gasping for breath and the visitor roaring ahead, not to be headed the rest of the way.

Ironically, North’s pressing defense led by spindly Anthony Thomas had given the Sabes fits in the second period, when the Coogs came from behind (down 17-7) to outgun the enemy 17-11 in the period. With Faz driving, drawing, and dishing – and hitting 4 of 4 from the free throw line – Rudy Garcia’s club looked sound, while the Sabes hit a lull and clanked four straight misses from the stripe.

But the Vela kids came out with real intent after the intermission and simply blew the opponent away.  

“We made some mistakes in the second quarter,” said Rodriguez, who is fully recovered from an ankle injury and played very well Tuesday. “We picked it up on defense and we started to execute after the half.”

Coach Lucio Rodriguez was pleased with his crew after an emphatic win on the road, saying that the defense – the press specifically – was one of the keys.

“It’s a game of runs, it always is,” he noted. “And we started getting some easy baskets off the turnovers, the guys were up for it, they smelled blood in the water and they just went after it. They pressed us in that second quarter and then we did it in the third, we settled in and just went to work.”

In an impressive start to the season prior to district, Vela had been adept at winning the narrow ones, going 7-2 in contests decided by five points or fewer. But in increasing their career record against North to 13-7 lifetime, the Sabes did not need clutch play in the final moments. By the time the program’s lesser grebes took over the court in the last two minutes Tuesday, this was had been long been decided.

FIND A SEAT

To see all the people filing into the North gym, one might have thought there was more than just basketball happening, maybe a showing of a prize pig? Always see more boots on the ground at this school, a pleasant and nostalgic reminder of the Valley’s former status as a rural area.

At the start, Requena showed he was ready to show his skills with a pretty reverse layup for the first bucket. Then Faz knocked down a triple and Gonzales made a rejection; he had seven blocks against Pioneer and no doubt will alter many shots in a given night. Faz, who was not there for the Pioneer win, was weaving into the defense and finding open teammates, but at the other end senior Rolando Rodriguez of Vela was a barrel of energy on the glass. He scored twice inside and when Avelar connected from behind the arc, the Sabes were up, 15-7. Then the curly headed guard made a superb outlet pass to locate a streaking Mancillas for a 10-point lead near the end of the period. Mancillas gives the club splendid work rate and is, like each member of the starting five, an agile kid. He makes plays that don’t show up on the scoresheet.

As the second period began, an administrator announced to the overflow crowd that they needed to make sure their masks were secure. Jacob Rodriguez drove into the lane to face Gonzalez and drew the foul, the 6-7 North kid’s second. Subsequently, Requena stood in and took a charge. Vela was rolling.

But the Coogs rallied, scoring at the line and getting a nice play from sophomore Joseph Cruz, who stole one and fed to Faz for a deuce, narrowing the margin to 3. Thomas went 1-on-1 and pulled up for a 3 to tie the game at 22 but R. Rodriguez barged onto the glass for a putback. Back and forth now as North senior Marcos Leal went to the tin for a layup and one, but the next time the Coogs drove, R. Rodriguez drew the offensive foul.

Avelar, whose season scoring highs so far came against Laredo United (21) and Rowe (17), has now hit at least one trey in 19 of 21 games. Vela as a team averages five three-point makes, at 30 percent.

Requena ended the half the way he started it, with an aggressive foray to the rack and a 28-26 Vela advantage at 0:06.

The girls warmed up at halftime, as North prepared to take on Vela, three days before the all-important Lady Sabe contest against EHS. There was just nowhere to sit by now in this loud full house.

North came out in a 2-1-2 zone for the third Gonzalez in the middle, but the post picked up his fourth foul just 50 seconds in, and that was trouble. Vela zoomed to a 10-point lead again at 36-26 on an Avelar bomb and the trap took over. Mancillas and Requena captured a Coog guard at halfcourt to force a turnover and Mancillas made another steal on the next possession. R. Rodriguez continued to pound the boards, missing two shots but getting the carom each time to earn a trip to the line; homie was inspired Tuesday, with eight rebounds, six offensive.

Requena then scored two more times, once off a steal by Avelar, and this thing was spiraling out of control. It was a 15-point lead at the 5-minute mark of the third and North did not score a point in the quarter until 4:41. Taking steals and converting them into chippies, Vela surged ahead, building a 20-point lead on a Requena hoop. For the season, the Sabes have allowed 45 or fewer points on six occasions.

It was 55-34 at the end of the telltale period, and the fourth was just garbage time, really, with senior Eric Trigo of Vela standing out for his performance. The last Sabe hoop came on a 3 from Avelar, who looked over at the Vela bench as he backpedaled back on D, smiling and waving his hands happily. Domination complete.

In other 31-6A action Tuesday, Econ walloped P-SJ-A by 31 and EHS ended a recent slow stretch with a 64-43 victory over Mission. North will be at Pharr North Friday, against a Raider team that was beaten by La Joya on opening night, 71-59. Vela will tackle EHS at home.

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