January 6, 2023
By Greg SelberClick here for North vs La Joya Game Gallery
The long-awaited district season has finally arrived for the local 6A hoops teams, while Vela has already finished up the first half of its 5A league; this we knew would be the pattern, as the volleyball and football teams from 6A went through the same extended preseason in the fall.
The first night of girls’ action was interesting Friday, as EHS and Econ scored victories while North went down at home against La Joya. The Lady Bobcats hammered Mission, 70-45 behind a three-point barrage from junior Kiki Fagan and the Lady Jaguars weathered a slow-moving storm to win, 25-19, over P-SJ-A. This sets up an early showdown between the two rivals at Econ Tuesday. With the easy day over the Lady Eagles, EHS achieved win no. 20 on the season while the Lady Jags – off to their best start in a decade – are now 16-7 overall.
Meanwhile, the Lady Cougars were knotted at the half against La Joya before getting outplayed in the third period, to the tune of 15-4, and will now look to get back on track Tuesday against Mission. Like Econ, North has started well, as the loss dropped its mark to 11-11 all told.
The boys are a step or two behind the girls in 6A, as district action does not start until Friday, when EHS (16-8 overall) will be at home to La Joya; North (15-12) will be at P-SJ-A; and Econ (12-13) travels to Mission to get the race going in earnest.
The Bobcats have been very solid so far, and almost upended Laredo United South (19-6 record) last time out, losing by 2. Senior Jahi Fagan has emerged as one of the breakout stars of 2022-23, averaging 15.2 points and 8.1 rebounds. North was masterful in its last outing, smashing a sound Brownsville Hanna squad, 64-37, and has made 104 three-point shots in non-district action. The Jags held the lead against vaunted Los Fresnos for much of the game Friday before fading into a 64-59 loss, but hopes are high that the promising start to the campaign will continue in league wars.
As for the Vela scene, well, the girls are beating their 5A foes by an average margin of more than 50 points per game and stand unblemished in the standings at 9-0 heading into Tuesday’s game against P-SJ-A Southwest. Then comes a Friday battle against McAllen Memorial, one of the units chasing the Lady Sabes. The first time these two met, at Vela Dec. 12, it was 77-37, Blue and Black, and now the rematch, on the road.
The boys of Vela have climbed well as the slate continues, hitting 6-1 in district with a win last time out over P-SJ-A Memorial. The Sabes were defeated at Pioneer earlier in the week but rebounded to gain steam for a week of work ahead. Friday they will take on Memorial, which is also 6-1 and also lost to league-leading Pioneer. Girls first in the doubleheader at Memorial.
Coach Marah Guzman’s troops were ready for the challenge against a La Joya team that has excellent guards and a serviceable post. With senior Jayli Rivera hot out of the gate, the Lady Coogs led by 4 until the Lady Coyotes started finding the range from outside, to lead 13-10 after a period. With Rivera on her way to 15 points in the first half (20 for the night), North was on its mark in rallying to a 22-all halftime tie, but the third period was tough, as the shots wouldn’t fall and the enemy backcourt began to dominate. A strong second-half effort from senior Jemma Castaneda (seven points and nine rebounds) came after junior Etsel Ramirez (seven boards) had done well in the first.
However, North fell behind by 12 late in the third and a spurt in the fourth was not enough to forestall a 49-40 defeat. Free throw shooting helped La Joya (1-0, 7-12) to the W, as the Lady Coyotes made 6 of 6 in the telltale third. They also hit four three balls while North did not plunk one in from behind the arc.
Still, there were good signs from the league debut, particularly the piranha-like steals from Rivera, an outstanding hustle night from Castaneda, and some spirited defensive work from sophomore Roxy Rodriguez. The Lady Coogs played without injured junior Kaylah Lozano, the second leading scorer who sadly has been lost for the season.
The night started with a lightning interception from Rivera, who cruised for the one-on-none as she will often do. Then she made a cute runner in the lane after sophomore Yaneth Salinas, whose father Pete and brother Angel were stellar ballers in town, grabbed a tough defensive rebound. But as stated, La Joya got it going from outside, and assumed command, although senior Zoey Gaytan flipped in a hoop to get Guzman’s gang to within 3 at the end of the first.
Soon after the second began, North was into what would be a 9-2 run with Rodriguez stealing one and passing to Gaytan, who assisted on Rivera’s drive to make it 16-13, Lady Coogs. La Joya hit another bomb but the irrepressible Rivera rolled downhill to free throws.
Interestingly, La Joya now chose to slow the ball down, and it paid off initially with an inside basket, leading to the close of the period; Castaneda executed a superb power-spin move on the blocks to score in the last stages of the first half.
The Old Gold opened the door to its demise in the third, missing a couple of chippies early and then falling into poor shot selection. The Lady Coyotes got their looks and made them, rising to a 7-point lead midway through on a long corner 3. Senior Liliana Chavez came on to snatch a big rebound in traffic but the tide was turning in favor of the visitor. Rivera did her bit to stave off the loss, swooping in for a picturesque left-handed layup, cutting the margin to 6, and Isabella Hetzel guarded the inbounds so well that La Joya was forced into a timeout (five seconds, anyone?). Just when it seemed North was going to get back in, the visitor heated up again and opened some distance between itself and the home girls. It was 37-26 after three.
In the last period, Rivera made yet another steal and fed to Hetzel, who found Gaytan for two. The Lady Coogs were able to show this sort of passing and teamwork at times Friday, but La Joya was much better in person than had been advertised, and never faltered en route to the decision. Castaneda helped out with a leaping one-handed defensive board in one of her best nights as a Lady Coog, later drawing an offensive foul on LJ for her side. The loss marked the eighth in a row for North against La Joya over the past several seasons, as the Lady Coyotes continued to be a thorn in the program side. But the chance at another home game, the aforementioned date with Mission Tuesday, is out there for the taking. With only 10 games on the schedule, every night is a must-win, it seems.