January 19, 2022
By Greg SelberClick here for Vela vs North select photos
This is it, a showdown at the Last Chance Saloon as they used to say in the old Westerns, the final opportunity for the Lady Bobcats to slow down the Vela train as it storms headlong toward the championship station.
When EHS and Vela collide Friday, the homestanding Lady ‘Cats, 10-1, 25-7, know that if they want to run for the roses again this season, a victory against the Lady SaberCats (10-0, 27-2) is a must. To do so would not only keep them in the hunt for the trophy; it would also avenge a 61-40 defeat suffered at the hands of the Valley’s No. 1 team, back on Dec. 17. Since that setback, EHS has rolled to seven victories in a row, many of the close variety, including wins of 3 points (Pharr North); 5 (La Joya); 1 (P-SJ-A in OT); and most recently, 6 against Mission on Tuesday.
This propensity for clutch success is impressive in a sense, showing that in the main, the Lady Bobcats have been proficient in execution when it mattered most. But against the juggernaut of Vela, the trick before the trick will be even getting to the final stages of the night still with a chance to come out on top.
The first time these two met, the Lady Sabes held a comfortable 13-point lead by halftime on the way to an easy breeze. EHS hit seven threes in the loss but that came after 26 attempts. If the underdog wants to stay close to Vela this time, that percentage will have to be higher.
So too will Coach J.D. Salinas’ squad, in seeking to retain the title, have to cut into the plus-20 rebound margin the Lady Sabes enjoyed that night. No fewer than three Vela kids grabbed at least 10 boards, and in order to stick around and compete for the W, the Lady ‘Cats have to do better.
Meanwhile, Vela has been flat punishing its league foes, scoring nearly 70 ppg in district and allowing half that much in one of the most dominating seasons a town team has put together in some time. Re: Lady Bobcat squads on multiple occasions for a comparison.
Tuesday Vela obliterated North at home, 88-35, as junior Emma Lucio notched 19 points; the dazzling newcomer has not scored less than that in any league match and in fact appears to have 19 as a fave number. Lucio, with an array of drives and jumpers, has hit exactly 19 points on five separate 31-6A occasions. Wonder if she jams Steely Dan’s 1980 hit “Hey Nineteen” in ear buds before each game. Doubt it, but anyway.
As Coach Lottie Zarate attempts to guide her gang to a program record-tying 28th victory, she knows that for the first time in a while, senior sparkplug Lauren Vega might be able to take part in the festivities. Bothered by a series of injuries this season, the quick guard has missed the last two games, and been hampered with a foot problem for five. At the North game she announced that if all holds as planned, she will be back in action for this major Friday clash, and that will only make the team better both offensively and defensively.
In her stead, rugged freshman Ava Tovar has done some credible work, scoring 23 points in five games and hitting the boards with a vengeance. She put in 10 points against North and is surely auditioning for a regular spot in the rotation – perhaps a starting role – once Vega and fellow senior Aneyda Chapa walk the graduation stage in June.
The Lady Sabes have also benefitted from the return of soph Gaby Tijerina, who has come back from an injury to offer production, including a 10-point output against Mission a few weeks ago. Added depth behind the Furious Five comes from tallish junior Karsyn Hackerott, who has knocked in a trio of bombs recently, and sophomore Andrea Perez, who has hit the scorebook in each of the last five contests.
When they played the Lady Bobcats in the first round, the Vela girls only used two subs; as the season wears on into the playoffs, Zarate would like to be able to count on a deeper bench, to go with first sub G.G. Betancourt out front.
At this point, both teams are guaranteed entry into the Dance, along with P-SJ-A, which is now 7-2 and following closely behind despite some drastic injury woes. Fourth is anyone’s guess with a third of the slate left, though La Joya (6-4) has the decided edge against the rest of the pack. The Lady Coyotes do have to contend against EHS and P-SJ-A down the stretch, though, giving the others a slim shot at getting on a tear and making up ground. But La Joya, which has shown fiery offensive prowess at times, appears to be a decent bet to make the grade. So, the stage is set for another wild night of City Rivalry action on the hardwood … do check with the district before you go, though. In this second straight year of COVID madness, one never knows if a game will come off as regularly scheduled. Such is the dreaded New Normal.