February 20, 2022
By Greg Selber
It’s been a successful run for the city hoops squads this season as all four advanced to the playoffs out of 31-6A, outworking five other schools for the right to enter the bracket.
Vela, North, Econ, and EHS – in that order – emerged from the league slog to try their luck against a quarter of Lower Valley entries from 32-6A, marking the first time in Edinburg history that all four boys’ teams have made the Dance. The Second Season begins this week and here are the games in tap:
BROWNSVILLE HANNA AT VELA, MONDAY, 7 P.M.
Coach Lucio Rodriguez has engineered one of the better seasons in school history at Vela with a 29-7 record heading into bi-district. The SaberCats flirted with running the table in 31-6A, though a late OT loss to Econ ended that chance. Still, this season’s body of work – playoff performance pending – puts the senior-laden group into rare air, along with the 35-win 2016 squad that went to the Class 5A Final 4, and the 31-7 group of the previous season, 2015, which won four times in the postseason.
Vela was also a 28-game winner in 2019, Rodriguez’ debut campaign and was 26-6 in the ill-fated run of 2017.
This has been a great bounceback roll after the program missed the Second Season last year, and the Sabes hope to churn through the bracket like they did in 2019 and 2020, when they took a total of five playoff victories.
It is a balanced crew with no superstars such as legend Ryan Garza, but it is a sharp, disciplined unit that passes well, defends with malice, and has proven itself as one of the Valley’s top squads in 2022. Eight kids average at least 4 ppg and the collective averaged 70.3 ppg in league play, allowing a measly 39.7. The Sabes will hit about five 3’s a night (30 percent) and are paced in steals, assists, and points by senior guard Aidan Avelar. Avelar and rugged Roland Rodriguez are neck and neck in total rebounds and in Tony Requena, Alec Mancillas, and Jacob Rodriguez, Vela has versatile and aggressive vets who use their length to great effect out on the court, at both ends.
This season the Sabes lost non-district bouts with RGV foes Pace, Pioneer, and McAllen Memorial but beat South, Edinburg North, Laredo United South, and Rowe to bolster the strength of schedule.
Their opponent will be Hanna, which lost a playoff seeding game to Harlingen Friday to drop into the fourth spot. The Eagles are a .500 club basically (18-16 overall) which started 1-3 in 32-6A, got hot midway through, and managed a playoff chance by virtue of season splits with Harlingen and Harlingen South. They’ve got a 6-4 post and some pesky guards, but not a lot of recent postseason chops. The last time Hanna was in the mix was 2019, when it lost to Vela in the first round, 65-58. Prior to that, the Eagles made it in 2014, losing off the bat to P-SJ-A in double overtime.
Under Hall of Fame coach Don Denson, the Eagles lost to Edinburg North in bi-district 2012, won once in the 2011 playoffs and twice in 2010, advancing to the third stage before losing against McAllen High.
NORTH AT HARLINGEN, MONDAY 7 P.M.
The Cougars have probably flown a bit under the radar this year but make no mistake, they’re tough at 13-3 in league play, 25-10 all told. The Coogs of Coach Rudy Garcia came a strong second to Vela in 31-6A with a variety of weapons. This team can bomb away from downtown, is solid at the free-throw line (70 percent), and has one of the Valley’s best shot-blockers in 6-7 Eddie Gonzalez.
They were beaten twice by Vela and split with Econ, but other than that, the Coogs pounded away on the rest of the district and have won eight of nine coming into the postseason. North got off to a slightly rocky run during a treacherous starting stretch of the schedule but since a 4-6 beginning have gone 21-4 to make this a very promising campaign. They have proven to be clutch when it counts, as five district W’s by eight or fewer points indicated.
Last year, when Garcia surpassed the 500-win mark for his career, the Coogs defeated Harlingen in the first round, 73-68 and then went out of the bracket against Laredo United. From 2017 to 2021, they made the Dance twice, only to be eliminated in bi-district. They got a playoff W in 2016 over South and then there was the banner year of 2014, when they went to the Sweet 16 after beating P-SJ-A, Del Rio, and Alexander. North whipped Hanna in 2012 before dropping out against Laredo Martin.
Harlingen, long one of the Valley’s most consistent powerhouses, is 19-14 after beating Hanna in the seeding game. The Cardinals were 8-6 in 32-6A and played a series of contests against upstate foes in non-district, beating CC King and Laredo Martin while losing six times by six points or fewer. They took vaunted Pace to OT before expiring and recorded a victory over McAllen Memorial.
In district they showed a propensity for the narrow margin, winning six times by six points or fewer, beating champ Weslaco by 2 in OT to start the league season. They also lost to Hanna by 3, Los Fresnos by 1, and South by 2.
Harlingen has a couple of main scorers, guard Ryan Sanchez and forward Jonathan Salinas, who average 33 ppg between them. The club has been beaten in the first round three years running, including (as stated) last season by the Cougars. Its last success was against, ironically, North in 2018, to start a run that ended in the regional quarters against Laredo Alexander. From 2010 to 2014 the Cards were among the Valley’s best, taking five postseasons wins and making a Sweet 16 trip in 2011.
HARLINGEN SOUTH AT ECON, TUESDAY, 7 P.M.
The Hawks are 21-13 this season under Coach Brian Molina, the ex McAllen Memorial sharpshooter. They went 9-5 in District 31-5A and closed with a victory over rival Harlingen to salt away second place. They’ve got some size in Ddeen Badiru (averages a double double) and a good sophomore scorer, Steven Ortegon.
South played a rough non-district schedule, and took its lumps against the likes of Vela, Brownsville Pace, St. Joe, and McAllen High, playoff teams all.
Last season South lost to La Joya in bi-district and last won a postseason match back in 2017 over EHS. In 2019 the Hawks were beaten by the Jags in round one, 56-51, and also combated town teams in 2017 (beat EHS by 1), 2016 (lost to North by 11), and 2015 (beat EHS by 30) in recent times.
The Jags come in having won seven of eight games for an overall record of 23-13. Their only loss in that stretch came by 4 to Pharr North and they knocked off all three city rivals during the second half of 31-6A play.
Last season Econ dropped an overtime clash at home against Weslaco in bi-district and its last postseason win came against this same South club, 56-51 in 2019. The East Side went out in the first round two years in a row, 2017 and 2018, versus Weslaco and then Los Fresnos.
EDINBURG HIGH AT WESLACO, TUESDAY, 7:30 P.M.
The Panthers are 25-10 and won the derby down in District 32-6A with a 12-2 mark, losing to Harlingen in OT to start out but then taking 10 in a row before falling to San Benito by 4 in a late-slate upset.
Coached by former Weslaco legend and UTPA All-Conference guard Gabe Valdez, Weslaco is a strong defensive force (44 ppg) with a patient mentality on offense. In non-district the Panthers were topped by Pace, Mac High, St. Joe, and Econ, scoring triumphs over a number of fine teams including Rio Grande City, Mac High, and McAllen Memorial. They also beat a series of out-of-RGV squads such as Katy, Laredo entries Alexander and LBJ, and CC King.
As for their recent playoff history, the Panthers beat Econ last season before losing to SA Warren in area, made it to the second round in 2020 before Rowe took their measure, and were eliminated in the first stage in both 2018 and 2019; in 2018 it was EHS, led by Antoine Woodard and Jesus Cantu, that upset Weslaco, 57-50. The Panthers went to the Sweet 16 back in 2017, winning four times (including over Econ) before Austin Westlake ended the run.
The Bobcats meanwhile have been solid as of late, winning five of their last seven to ease into the fourth spot. Though they were swept in town over six games, they did sweep Mission, Lincoln, P-SJ-A, and Pharr North, and that performance against the Raiders, coupled with a split of the season series with La Joya, got them in.
Coach Zeke Cuellar has a young group in for the postseason with just two seniors in the rotation, guard Derek Guerra (6.8 ppg/5.3 rpg) and forward Rolando Abrego (5.0/4.8). Junior Joaquin Soto (8.8 ppg) leads the team in assists while junior Jahi Fagan (6.1) is tops in steals. Sophomore Ryan Rivera (8.1) is a shooting threat with 50 three-pointers, while junior Ian Garcia (12.8/5.2) probably the most talented all-around player.
Prior to missing out on the Dance last season, the ‘Cats were in it for six consecutive seasons, winning in bi-district in 2018 and 2020 (over Harlingen). Back in 2009 to 2011, EHS was 89-19 overall with seven playoff wins and a Sweet 16 trip in 2011.