November 29, 2022
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
It’s not like he’s posted a sign on his door reading, “Help Wanted,” but J.D. Salinas is definitely holding daily auditions to fill some key roles for the latest Lady Bobcat hardwood edition. The EHS coach knows that everyone knows about his three established starters and stars, fabulous juniors all, and Tuesday’s home game against Pioneer gave plenty of highlights from them. Maddy Martinez, Kiki Fagan, and Emily Carranco combined for 44 points and 28 rebounds as the Lady ‘Cats blasted the visitor, 54-34, rising to 11-4 on the season. But 54 minus 44 is 10, and though this is not a problem, per se, it points to one of the goals for the campaign.
“Right, everyone knows about our girls who have been starters since their freshman year basically, and know what they bring to the table,” said Salinas, who has piloted the program to six titles in 10 seasons. “Now we are working on developing some of our other girls. We need some others, the role players, to continue to progress and learn, and to be able to help get us over the top.”
EHS has been at it fast and furious since the season began, and Salinas noted that a busy non-district schedule, which contains several tournament trips, is great for development in some ways, tricky in others.
“It doesn’t give us a lot of time to practice, because depending on the schedule, you have a bunch of games in a row, and very little time to work on stuff,” he explained. “And for the girls who are just coming in, or who are starting to get more playing time, practice is a big deal. It’s where we can slow things down, go over what has to happen on different plays and scenarios. Put it this way, we have been stressing to the girls about spending time on Hudl, watching videos to try and pick things up. When you can’t practice a lot, that sort of learning has to take place.”
For the 2022-23 squad, one might start adding a name to the established trio of vets, because Lucero Jimenez, now a senior, has upped her game considerably.
“We’re very proud of Lucy, how hard she’s worked and how much she has improved,” Salinas said. “Whether it’s bringing the ball up, or playing tough defense, hustling, she has really come on strong, and it’s good to see. We will be that much stronger as a team with her improvement.”
And indeed, Jimenez was front and center against Pioneer, scoring six points and giving a tremendous effort on defense. She’ll go to the floor to get loose balls, knows how to keep the rock going in the flow of the offense, and is a leader on the court with determination and energy. Now for the rest of the gang.
Tara Moreno is a program vet who in her senior season has become a regular contributor. Salinas says that like Jimenez, she may not come out and score a ton of points every night, but she will make the most of her minutes.
“She is important for us, as she will rotate well on defense, put a body on someone, and grab some rebounds,” the coach explained, and in that, Moreno is in a way a replacement for graduated ex Larissa Martinez, who was 24-7 fight. “Tara is a hard worker who has been around the program and knows how we do things. We have a few other girls who are in the process of learning Lady Bobcat basketball, what we expect, what our culture is, and this stretch of games we’ve had, it gives the new kids a chance to learn these aspects, day by day.
“We want all our girls to become students of the game, to study how it works, what we do, how we do it. And gradually, as they get smarter, they will be able to come into a game and stand up to the pressure of playing at the varsity level.”
As EHS defeated Pioneer, running from a 2-point lead after a period to a 32-18 advantage at the half and the eventual 20-point margin, the stars did their business and the new group got some learning done, on the job.
Mia Dominguez, the volleyball standout, will come in and hit the boards and use her strength and athleticism to be a factor on defense, while freshman Sydnie Brenner is also looking to get into the mix. At 5-6, long and lithe, Brenner reminds some people of former program great An’nika Saenz, who went from a fine career at EHS to college hoops. Ava Reyes is a battling guard whose strong suit is defensive pressure, while Hillary Luna and sophomore Jackie Rincon are seeking time on the blocks as frontcourt options off the bench.
TAKING ON PIONEER
The night started with a bang Tuesday at home, as Carranco and Fagan combined for an early steal leading to a lefty layup by the latter. Carranco, who is working her way into basketball shape after a successful volley season, was outstanding against Pioneer with 22 points, 13 rebounds, and eight steals. In the first period she put the ball on the deck for a sharp drive to the basket and for 32 minutes worked, hustled, and produced, as always.
Moreno gave a great assist soon after and then muscled up for a defensive board which enabled the Lady ‘Cats to get out on the fast break, the speedy Fagan leading the charge. Or sometimes it would be Jimenez, who has quickness in a short space and is playing head-up all the time now, seeing the game unfold and taking the opportunity to get involved. In prior seasons the stocky guard was more of a secondary option, but now she is showing the ability to do more, just when her team needs her to do so. On cue, Jimenez raced downcourt after a long pass and reached the ball just as it started over the endline; she got there, grabbed it, and flipped a sideways, almost behind-the-back pass to the trailing Carranco, who converted easily for a chippie and 10-2 lead. Perfect.
But Pioneer, with former North boys’ coach Rudy Garcia on hand as an assistant, rallied back into the deal with offensive rebounding, and by the end of the quarter had pulled close, down just 15-13. Then it was Jimenez with a drive-draw-and-dish off a jump stop, followed by a bomb from Martinez as EHS reasserted itself. Martinez was to knock through four treys Tuesday, and as is often the case she slipped in for rebounds without regard for life or limb. Though slim of frame, Martinez has never been shy about hitting the glass, as her 10 caroms against the Lady Diamondbacks illustrated. Now playing off the ball at a two-guard much of the time, she’s been able to move without the ball, get to the spot, and nail jumpers in bunches. She has to be one of the top pure shooters in the Valley. Mad touch. Mad range. Mad!
Jimenez continued to spark the club, finding Carranco with a sweet feed off an inbounds play, and when Carranco stole one and located a streaking Martinez, the lead was 10 and Pioneer was sucking wind.
A pair of pretty three-point makes from Martinez added to the carnage and again it was Carranco to Martinez off a steal, just Turnover City now, a 17-5 demolition of a quarter which basically put the enemy out, like a light, for good.
So far the Red and Blue has beaten some quality opponents, such as Laredo LBJ, Brownsville Vets, Laredo Nixon, San Antonio Churchill, Rio Grande City, and Palmview. Losses have been to Weslaco twice, McAllen Rowe, and Laredo United South (by 3). Salinas’ gang will take on a number of other luminaries in the December run-up to District 31-6A action, which begins Jan. 6 at Mission.
They are set to play Los Fresnos next Friday and have trips to Laredo (for United and Alexander) along with a road match against a San Benito team that has started well this year at 12-7. With the known, impressive quantities on hand and a host of newcomers progressing and figuring it out, the Lady Bobcats will think that another district championship is within their reach. And they would be correct.