February 13, 2022
By Greg Selber
And now it truly begins. No more easy nights against the district bottom-feeders, when the decision is basically certain after the opening tip and everyone but the trainer gets a chance to score points.
The playoffs have arrived and now the excitement, and pressure will mount. The city sends its two best into the fray, starting Monday when Vela will be at Los Fresnos, and then continuing with EHS at Harlingen South Tuesday.
The Lady Sabes, with a glittering 33-2 record, ran the table in 31-6A and will face a Lady Falcon team that came fourth in a tightly contested 32-6A chase. EHS, at 29-8, lost just two league games, to the champs, and despite not sharing in a league title for the first in six seasons, is intent on making one of its trademarked runs deep into the bracket. Both the city quintets know that the second round of the postseason – based on the current alignment – guarantees a match against upstate competition, so they must take care of business as the favorites in the latest edition of Spy v. Spy (Mad magazine, Google), or 31 v. 32.
VELA AT LOS FRESNOS
Los Fresnos will bring a good-size lineup with plenty of grit. The team defense is sound and rugged for a program that was 26-11 overall, 9-5 in 32-6A action. Frankly, it is a bit of a trap game for the Lady SaberCats, who have not been tested in forever and come into bi-district with a couple of lingering injuries. Los Fresnos is a fairly salty opponent for a No. 4 seed, though Vela recorded a 20-point when the two squared off back on Dec. 4.
Sarahi Jones is the main cog of the machine, averaging a double-double in her senior season for a club that defeated McAllen Rowe in non-district for its signature accomplishment in 2021-22. The Lady Falcons split with Harlingen and South in league play but were whipped twice by Weslaco. Along with Jones, junior Arlene Ortega is a rough and ready girl who averages 9.0 rpg; Los Fresnos starts three juniors.
The two have met twice before in the postseason, Los Fresnos winning both games in bi-district (2014, by 9; 2020, by 11), but this time Vela has the edge, both in talent and season pedigree. If sophomore Janai Coleman is healthy for the game, after having sat out the latter stage of the breeze to the title, the Lady Sabes should be good to go. A healthy Lauren Vega would be a boon as well.
Last season Vela went out in bi-district after an 18-point loss to Harlingen, but in this banner campaign – school record for wins – the Blue and Black enters the night on a 24-game winning streak, also the top such stretch in program annals.
As the Lady Sabes bask in the glow of by far their best season, they will attempt to get past the initial stage for the first time since 2018-19, when they clipped South by 4 before being eliminated against Laredo United. The best stretch for the program, came from 2014-2016, when Vela got into area three seasons in a row. It has never managed to win two playoff games in a season, but observers give this powerful group a shot at making history this time around, in the 10th playoff appearance for the program in as many seasons.
In its finest season yet, Vela has beaten 13 teams with 20 or more wins, including eight with 25 or more. Early triumphs over Corpus Christi Vets (eventually to go 32-2), Boerne (26-4), and LaVernia (27-5) signaled that this might be a special season. Non-district success over Weslaco and Rowe continued the trend, and then the Lady Sabes absolutely erased the competition in 31-6A, steaming to a 16-0 mark and a crazy average victory margin of 36 ppg. They topped 80 points three times and 70 on four other occasions. Only once did Vela fail to pound a 31-6A opponent by less than 20, and that was the rematch with EHS Jan. 21, decided by 14.
The winner of Vela-Los Fresnos gets a shot at either SA Harlan (24-8) or Laredo United (27-8). Harlan blasted five Valley teams without a loss in early season action, while United – which yielded its league title to rival United South this season – has wins over Weslaco and Harlingen.
Meanwhile, EHS has been fast on the heels of its city adversary all season, and advances to bi-district against a South crew that sports a record of 23-15. The Lady Hawks were 10-4 in 32-6A this season and in contention for the crown before dropping their last two tries.
South approaches with a great strength-of-schedule rating, having clashed with more than 15 playoff teams so far. They lost to P-SJ-A, the third 31-6A seed matched against Weslaco for the first round, and were beaten by Rowe, Rio Grande City, and Brownsville Vets. The Lady Hawks have victories against La Joya (No. 4 from the Upper Valley, in against Harlingen), McAllen High, and three schools out of the San Antonio area.
Not that big a bunch, South does have quickness and defensive ability, though offense (42 ppg) is not a program strength. The sparkplug is Alexes Rocha, leading scorer at 11.8 ppg and the pacesetter in steals, assists, and three-pointers. Isabella Marez is her guard mate, while Jasmine Ortiz (9.9/8.5) is the inside player of note for a team that doesn’t have stars but seems to battle night in and night out. In league play, the Lady Hawks were swept by city foe Harlingen and split with Los Fresnos and Weslaco; in the last week of the slate, they were defeated by Weslaco by 11 and LF by 3, heading into the Second Season.
In 2020-21, South came third in the league and was humbled, 56-19, by Pharr North in bi-district.
EHS went three-deep a year ago, losing to Harlingen at the buzzer in a memorable regional quarterfinal classic at Bert Ogden Arena. Since 2010, the program has won three playoff games in a season on three occasions and is working on a streak of four straight bi-district victories, looking for No. 5 against South.
In bringing home second in district, the Lady Bobcats scored 60 or more points eight times, with a high of 75 against North, and allowed less than 49 points in 15 of 16 contests. Ten times the defense limited foes to less than 40.
In the area round, the EHS-South victor takes on the winner of the game between United South and SA Warren. This is a rematch of last year’s playoff starter, won by Warren narrowly; the Lady Warriors then were edged by EHS in area. This season, the Lady Panthers are by far the stronger entry, having beaten EHS and Weslaco in non-league and thrashed rival United three times in 2021-22. Warren is just 11-19 overall, so expect U South to emerge into the second stage. The Lady Panthers clobbered EHS 72-39 back in November.